Auburn seesaws back into Top 25
Philip Lutzenkirchen figures Auburn's youngsters have learned two big lessons: They can win in the Southeastern Conference, and it's not easy.
The 15th-ranked Tigers jumped back into the Top 25 for the second time Sunday with a victory over a ranked SEC team in a game that wasn't decided until the final minutes, this time 16-13 at South Carolina.
''It just kind of shows the young guys that in the SEC you're going to be in battles just about every game,'' said Lutzenkirchen, who caught the winning touchdown pass. ''I think the young guys kind of realize that now, that any game in the SEC we can win. Just not to listen to what everyone's saying. I think it's just a good step forward for our team.''
The Tigers (4-1, 2-0 SEC) might learn just how large of a step it was Saturday when they visit Arkansas and play the nation's No. 10 team for the second straight weekend.
Once again, they're double-digit underdogs. Auburn held South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore to 66 yards rushing while Mike Dyer tied the Auburn record with 41 carries and gained 141 yards.
''He probably could have carried it 50,'' Tigers coach Gene Chizik said Sunday.
Still, it wasn't settled until Barrett Trotter hit Lutzenkirchen for a 9-yard touchdown with 1:38 left after a much-criticized defense played easily its best game.
''Coming in, anybody you asked or any stats you looked at are probably going to say we lose that game,'' Trotter said. ''But once we get out on the field it's a whole different story and we're going to fight to the end and make sure we come out with a win.''
The Tigers had first fallen from the rankings with an opening squeaker against heavy underdog Utah State, then survived a 41-34 victory over Mississippi State with help from an end-of-game goal-line stand. Now, the Tigers have three down-to-the-wire wins and are 9-0 in games decided by four points or less under Chizik.
''I can't put my finger on why everything happens,'' he said. ''There are many reasons. You get down in the red zone in the second quarter and you don't score versus the fourth quarter and you do.
''Our team believes that with the game on the line, we've got to go down and get a score - our team believes we can do that. That's part of the reason we've been able to do that. We work on it a lot.''
Once again, the Tigers find themselves going into a hostile environment short-handed. Cornerback Chris Davis has missed the past two games with an ankle injury. Leading receiver Emory Blake landed awkwardly on his right leg after going for the ball against South Carolina in the third quarter and played little after that.
Chizik said the status of both for the Arkansas game won't likely be determined until late in the week.
He said No. 3 receiver Trovon Reed will miss his second straight game with a shoulder injury. Asked if he might be out for the season, Chizik said: ''I don't think that's necessarily the case at all. But in terms of what week we're expecting him back, I can't give you that indication, either.''
Auburn didn't fare well after the Mississippi State game. They had a 17-game winning streak halted with a two-touchdown loss to Clemson.
Chizik said he's not worried about a team heavy on underclassmen falling flat after another big win.
''All they have to do is watch the film,'' he said. ''I want them to be excited that they had a great win, there is no question about that. I want them to embrace that, but at the same time you have to look at all the things you didn't do well. There were plenty. Then you move on to the next phase. I don't worry about them clinging on to a nice win. We're definitely not there.''