No. 10 Auburn hones survival skills in close games
Auburn has honed its survival skills with a series of
Of course, the No. 10 Tigers might not find themselves in such
harrowing positions if they didn’t continue to dig early holes. The
past two weeks, Auburn has spotted Clemson 17 points and South
Carolina 13 in the first half, then come back to win.
”We still haven’t put together a game that we can really be
proud of from top to bottom,” coach Gene Chizik said Tuesday.
”We’ve put together some quarters that looked like the way Auburn
football ought to look.
”We’re trying to strive for a top-to-bottom, four-quarter game
but we haven’t arrived there yet.”
Luckily for the Tigers (4-0), those slow starts haven’t cost
them a game yet. But they’ve raised plenty of questions, such as
how can a team be so utterly dominant during some stretches of the
second half and so hapless and ineffective for much of the
Chizik & Co. are still seeking answers going into Saturday’s
game against Louisiana-Monroe (1-2). It hasn’t kept them from
rising 12 spots in the Top 25 since the season started, or seven
spots with a 35-27 win over No. 19 South Carolina.
Eventually, living dangerously could catch up with the Tigers. A
road trip to Kentucky followed by games against No. 15 Arkansas and
No. 12 LSU follow the Louisiana-Monroe game.
Sometimes it’s the offense. The Tigers struggled to even get a
first down early against Clemson, falling behind 17-0. A 21-point
third-quarter surge erased that deficit en route to an overtime
Other times it’s the defense. South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia
racked up 158 yards passing in the first half to build a 20-7 lead.
The Tigers wiped that out by forcing four turnovers in the final
”We’ve made some good halftime adjustments,” Chizik said.
”But we haven’t played well, or at least nearly as well as we’d
like to play, in the first half of ball games as a team.”
Auburn also used a fourth-quarter defensive stand to survive
17-14 at Mississippi State to start the string of close games.
It’s not a terrible problem for the Tigers to have after they
failed to finish off several close games last season.
”It’s very important to finish strong,” defensive tackle Mike
Blanc said. ”Coach Chizik brought up a lot of examples from last
year where we had games won, but we just lost it in the fourth
quarter. This year, that’s something we definitely wanted to
”When the fourth quarter’s coming around, we want to make sure
we’re doing the right things. It’s just the little things at the
end of the game where people win or they lose.”
Having a little more defensive depth, especially on the front
line, helps. Auburn has managed to batter quarterbacks the past two
weeks. Garcia was yanked from the game after losing two fumbles in
the fourth quarter, but the Tigers then intercepted freshman backup
Connor Shaw twice to end scoring threats.
”I think it’s good the way that we’ve had to be on the field at
the end of the last three ballgames, where it’s come down to the
last play,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. ”And I think
there’s a lot of value in that, when it keeps happening to us, to
build some confidence that we can shut the door and end the
Chizik also likes what he sees from his players on the sidelines
while facing those early deficits.
”You don’t see the panic. You don’t see the body language
change,” he said. ”And of course that’s something that we preach
to them every day for the week and a half or whatever that we’ve
been here. But in the locker room at halftime, they know we’ve got
to come in, we’ve got to make some adjustments.
”Is it much different than last year? I don’t know if I can say
that. I just know that we were willing to fight and don’t look at
the scoreboard and keep playing to the end of the game.”