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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Final: Auburn 37, Louisiana Tech 13

Gene Chizik's first game is in the book, and quite honestly, it was pretty impressive. Here's how tomorrow's story starts.
AUBURN, Ala. — For more than two quarters, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's fast-paced offense sputtered, effective at times, sloppy at others, not quite the explosive point machine it was billed as.

That all changed in one record-setting play.

Quarterback Chris Todd hit wideout Terrell Zachery in stride for a 93-yard touchdown reception, the longest play in Auburn history, jumpstarting the Tigers' offense to a 556-yard night and a 37-13 victory against Louisiana Tech in head coach Gene Chizik's coaching debut before 81,143 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"There are always impostors in a game," Chizik said. "There are things that happen that you have to overcome. They aren't necessarily going to happen the rest of the game and they are not going to dictate how you play the rest of the game. ... I was proud to see how we responded to that."
Here are some other post-game notes and observations ...
  • The normally reserved Chizik ran the gamut of emotions Saturday. He showed a rare display of enthusiasm during the pre-game Tiger Walk, wildly pumping his fist and shouting to fans for the duration of his walk to the stadium. He calmly paced the sidelines during the game, only breaking form when he briefly got in an argument with an official over a questionable pass interference call. And afterward, he soaked everything in, taking his time hugging various family members before exiting the field to cheers with two fists raised. "It’s great to win your opening game," Chizik said. "The weight off my shoulder? I have weight on my shoulder on every game. I just felt prepared."
  • The Zachery touchdown turned everything around. Auburn's coaches and players saw Louisiana Tech's corners creeping in, so they took advantage and went over the top. "We had run it the play before that and I saw the corner pressing really hard on it," said Zachery, who had two career catches in his first two years at Auburn. "So we just came back with the double move." Todd pump faked and threw a perfect pass that hit Zachery in stride.
  • In case you're wondering, the previous longest pass in Auburn history was Jason Campbell to Silas Daniels against Louisiana Tech in 2004.
  • The long pass opened up everything on the ground. With fewer defenders near the line, Auburn's running game flourished. Malzahn followed through on its promise to run the ball and the Tigers responded, finishing with 255 rushing yards on 52 carries, more than any game last season. Ben Tate (117 rushing yards) and Onterio McCalebb (148) both topped the 100-yard mark. McCalebb was the first Tigers freshman since Bo Jackson in 1982 to top the century mark. "I was kind of nervous in the first place," McCalebb said. "But after the first play, I told the offensive line it's time. And once I told the offensive line it's time, it's time to roll."
  • Kodi Burns proved to be effective as a Wildcat option, running eight times for 23 yards and a 1-yard touchdown. It was a lot of fun just being on the field," Burns said. "Like I said, I want to help out the team any way I can and just get on the field and play. I played all my life and I've never sat on the bench, so it was just a great feeling to get in the end zone and I made plays at quarterback, wide receiver, just all over the place."
  • Chizik on Burns: "We told Kodi he was going to help us win football games. Whatever his role is, that is who he is. He is here for the team. He is a team guy. He is an Auburn man. I said it before, and I will say it again, it was really awesome to see that young man score. He came off and I said I told you that you were going to help us win games. It is great to see a guy who is that selfless. Good things happen to good people."
  • It was a solid effort for Todd, who was able to show off what his surgically repaired shoulder can do. The senior completed 17 of 26 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns, the long one to Zachery and a pretty 17-yarder that he dropped into the arms of Darvin Adams in the corner of the end zone. "We look for our quarterback to manage the team and don't turn the ball over," Chizik said. "And I felt for his first game in this offense, he did his job tonight."
  • Speaking of Todd, he got one of the warmest ovations from the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd before the game. A nice gesture from a fan base that didn't treat him so well last season.
  • The Tigers got a boost on special teams, where place-kicker Wes Byrum shook off his dismal 2008 campaign to drill field goals from 25, 49 and 47 yards. The 49-yarder came as the first-half clock expired, giving Auburn a 13-10 lead. "It felt good because it was nice to show the coaching staff that we can go out there at a moment's notice and hit a long one," Byrum said. 'It definitely felt good for all of us. Like I said before, from the hold to the snap, it just went well."
  • The defense, although thin across the board, held strong against Louisiana Tech's no-frills attack. The Bulldogs gained only 245 yards, and two of their three scoring drives were prolonged by Auburn pass interference and face mask penalties, easily correctable mistakes according to Chizik. "We got some penalties on defense tonight, I call them try-hard penalties. They're trying," Chizik said. "You know, you get kind of an incidental face mask in there two or three times. You take away some of those penalties on some of those drives and I don't know if you can really draw up a first game with that many new players any better." Said defensive end Antonio Coleman: "We didn't play perfect, but we got out there and we played hard. We flew around and had fun."
  • A number of defensive players did not play, including DE Nosa Eguae, DT Zac Clayton and LB Eltoro Freeman. "You can’t dwell on it," defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "It’s the next man up. You can’t dwell on it as a coach or your team will respond that way. That’s football, that’s life, it’s going to happen to everybody. Maybe in the long run it will help us develop some more depth."
  • Impressive debuts for a couple of newcomers. Freshman safety Daren Bates lived up to hig big-play billing by making a key interception in the third quarter, just before Todd's long touchdown pass to Zachery. "I knew I had to make up for the one I missed earlier," Bates said. "It felt good. I was hyped."
  • DT Nick Fairley, a junior college transfer, also had a big game, getting the start in his first career game. He pounced on a first-half fumble in Louisiana Tech territory and finished with five tackles and two quarterback hurries. "I was messing with him the whole week," Coleman said. "I was like, 'You're going to get welcomed to the SEC.' 'What you mean, man?' 'That one offensive lineman or that one back will just knock you out.' So he was like, 'OK, I'm going to show you.' So he got out there and played his butt off, man. I'm real proud of him."
  • Some other defensive leaders:
  • S Zac Etheridge had 8 tackles and .5 TFL
  • LB Craig Stevens had 8tackles, 1 sack and 1.5 TFL
  • LB Josh Bynes had 8 tackles
  • Coleman had 7 tackles, 1 sack and 2.5 TFLs.
  • H-back Mario Fannin had a big receiving day, with eight receptions for 82 yards. It looks like Auburn is really going to try to take advantage of him as a receiver this year.
  • Fannin had a rough night returning punts. He muffed one that teammate Chris Humphries was alert enough to recover in the second quarter. And he let one bounce and nearly roll past him on another. When he finally picked it up, the play was ruled dead, because Fannin called for a fair catch before that. Freshman Anthony Gulley went in to return the next two punts.
  • Auburn ran the ball 52 times. Its season high last year was 50. It only threw the ball 27 times in comparison, but who cares about balance when you're running the ball that well. "We are more into taking what the defense give us," Chizik said. "We are not into, 'Did we throw it 40 times? Did we run it 40 times?' There are some means behind the madness of what we are trying to accomplish on offense. If we feel like running the football 50 times gives us a better chance to win and there are a lot of issues out there. It could be that you are wearing down the defense. It could be the fast pace — whatever the issues are. If we feel like that gives us the best chance to win, that is what we are going to do. We are not so much geared into how many times did we throw it or how many times did we run it? We are geared into what is working so if they give us the pass, we may pass it 50 times or run it 30."
  • The Tigers ran 79 plays. The most they ran under Tony Franklin's "fast" offense last year was 77. It was the only time they topped 70.
  • Chizik on his first Tiger Walk as head coach: "Our fans are the greatest fans in the country. I know probably every coach says that. I've said this before, that Tiger Walk, if you're not fired up, you're in a coma."
  • And some stats of note to finish things out:
  • Auburn averaged 5.8 yards per rush. Louisiana Tech averaged 2.6.
  • Auburn ran for 301 yards. Louisiana Tech ran for 96.
  • Auburn converted 8 of 13 third-down conversions. Louisiana Tech converted 5 of 14.
  • And perhaps most important, Auburn scored on 4 of 5 red zone opportunities. After last year's struggles inside the 20, that's a positive sign.
We'll be back tomorrow for some follow up material when Auburn practices in the evening.


notabanker said...

The team really surprised me tonight. I didn't expect such an impressive performance. I don't want to get too fired up over one game...so I'll just say congrats to the coaches and players and War Eagle!

Anonymous said...

Good game, men.

tigercowboy said...

Nice effort all around. Great info, Andy.

It will be very interesting to see how we compete next week. I was very impressed with the ALL of the coaches last night. It appears they have it organized and dialed in.

If we continue this pace and execution, what top recruits would not want to play in this system?