Rue's Rant on College Sports in Alabama

September 18, 2009 2:10 PM

Chizik remains cool as expectations soar

I am beginning to warm up to this Gene Chizik guy.

Sure, I wondered what Auburn was doing when they hired him (and his 5-19 record at Iowa State) to replace Tommy Tuberville, but the way he has run the football program since taking over has been downright impressive.

Two decisions stand out. He brought in Gus Malzahn do be offensive coordinator and promised he wouldn’t interfere. Wise decision. After two games in Malzahn’s fast-paced spread attack that relies heavily on misdirection, the Tigers are averaging 572.5 yards total offense and 43.0 points.

Then, Chizik thwarted any quarterback controversy in fall camp by emphatically deciding Chris Todd would be the starter and Kodi Burns would move to wide receiver. But instead of letting Burns stew, he made him the “Wildcat” quarterback and last week Burns rewarded Chizik’s faithfulness by accounting for four touchdowns in Auburn’s 49-24 rout of Mississippi State in the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference opener.

But what I really like is Chizik’s even-handed temperament. Instead of getting caught up in the euphoria of Auburn’s rousing victories against a couple of lightweights – Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State – Chizik has remained calm, cool and collected. He simply pointed to the Tigers’ next game, which is Saturday night at home against West Virginia.

“We're not satisfied with the way we're playing, but satisfied being 2-0,”' Chizik said during the SEC coaches teleconference on Wednesday. “I think it's going to be a great measuring stick, by the end of the day, to see who we are.”

That was in line with what he said a day earlier when answering a question about fan’s expectations during Auburn’s weekly media conference.

“Here's how I feel about our fans here at Auburn," Chizik said. "Number one, we've got the greatest fans in the world, and they do their job as good as it gets. And I want them to be excited about the future. It's going to be very bright … We're not ready to buy stock in Auburn football yet. It's just not where we're at. We're just so far from that ... we have not arrived.”

A victory over West Virginia wouldn’t mean the Tigers have arrived, but it might land Auburn a spot in the Top 25.

In the only previous meeting between the two schools, the Mountaineers whipped the Tigers 34-17 last year in Morgantown. I expect Auburn to get a measure of revenge with a hard-earned 31-24 victory.

While Chizik was trying to temper expectations, Alabama coach Nick Saban was busy answering questions about the health of his players, notably sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones (bruised kneecap) and senior running back Roy Upchurch (high ankle sprain). During his weekly radio on Thursday, Saban listed them as questionable, but sounded as if they wouldn’t play Saturday when the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide hosts North Texas.

"They haven't been able to practice enough probably to prepare," Saban said. "I don't think either guy is out of the realm of being able to play and will be back very soon after this game if they can't play in this game."

The Tide won’t need either against the not-so Mean Green. The only question is which newcomer will shine. Last week, it was freshman running back Trent Richardson, who rushed 15 times for 118 yards and two second-half touchdowns in the Tide’s 40-14 victory against Florida International.

So, Jones and Upchurch can just rest up and get ready for Alabama’s SEC opener next week against Arkansas. They should have plenty of company on the sidelines from other frontline players by halftime as the Tide rolls to an easy 45-10 victory, allowing Saban to give fans a chance to get excited about some of the talented reserves they have been waiting to see in action.

(Photo by Cliff Williams/Opelika-Auburn News)

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