It has gotten to the point where Gene Chizik has just quit trying to define it or understand it. All the Auburn coach knows is that his 2010 football team has IT.
And IT, however defined or explained, has carried his Tigers to 12-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in the BCS standings. With a win over South Carolina in Saturday's SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, Auburn will ride IT to a berth in the BCS title game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
|Clemson||17||Auburn 27-24 (OT)|
|South Carolina||13||Auburn 35-27|
What Auburn has is a rock-solid ability to forget the score, the time, and the circumstances to forge ahead with the task at hand. It is a team with an uncanny short-term memory that focuses on what is necessary to win and then figures out a way to do it.
In 2004, Chizik was the defensive coordinator on an Auburn team that went 13-0 and finished No. 2 in the nation. In 2005, he was the defensive coordinator on a Texas team that went 14-0 and won the BCS national championship by beating USC in a game for the ages. Those two teams had some remarkable players -- Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Vince Young just to name a few. But Chizik, in just his second year as the head coach at Auburn, has never seen anything quite like this team.
"They just have enough confidence in themselves and enough confidence in each other so that no matter how the storm is playing out ... [they] can weather the storm in every game," said Chizik. "Some storms are worse than others."
Indeed. Last Friday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Auburn wasn't in a storm. It was caught in a full-blown tsunami. Alabama had used the energy of 101,000 fans (all but 10,000 were dressed in Crimson) to jump on top of Auburn 24-0 before the Tigers could even catch a breath. Suddenly, Auburn wasn't concerned about winning as much as not getting embarrassed before a huge CBS audience that included most of the 173 people who vote in the Coaches and Harris Interactive polls.
But like Muhammad Ali against George Foreman in Zaire, Auburn absorbed the barrage of punches thrown its way by the mighty Crimson Tide, the defending national champions. And once Auburn got into the locker room at halftime, the Tigers looked at the score (24-7) and realized they had survived Alabama's best shot.
Now it was time to figure out how to win the game.
"Once you get into the locker room, no matter what side of the ball you're on, you basically tell your guys that this is what they are doing. You try to simplify things," said Chizik. "Then you determine what you can do to counter what they are doing. This coaching staff and these players have done a very good job figuring that out."
|Auburn's Gene Chizik says his team can weather the storm in any game. (Getty Images)|
• In the second game of the season at Mississippi State, Auburn jumped out to a 17-7 lead and the defense had to hold on for a 17-14 victory.
• On Sept. 18 against Clemson, Auburn trailed 17-0 in the first half before coming back to win 27-24 with a 39-yard field goal from Wes Byrum in overtime.
• On Oct. 9 at Kentucky, the score was tied 34-34 and Auburn had the ball at its own 7-yard line with just over seven minutes left. Auburn drove 87 yards in 19 plays got a field goal from Byrum on the last play of the game to win 37-34.
• On Oct. 16 against Arkansas, Auburn trailed 43-37 with 14:09 remaining and it looked like the Tigers were never going to get another defensive stop. But the Auburn defense dialed up a couple of turnovers and Auburn scored 28 unanswered points to win 65-43.
• On Oct. 23, Auburn was locked in a 17-17 tie with LSU deep into the fourth quarter. Suddenly Onterio McCalebb burst 70 yards for a touchdown with 5:05 left and Auburn won 24-17.
• On Nov. 13, Georgia jumped out to a 21-7 lead. Auburn tied the game at halftime, recovered an onsides kick to start the second half, and went on to win 49-31.
• In the first meeting between Auburn and South Carolina on Sept. 25, the Gamecocks led 20-7 at halftime and appeared to be taking control of the game as the fourth quarter began with a 27-21 lead. But Auburn's defense turned up the pressure and forced four turnovers and won 35-27.
Against Alabama, the Auburn defense gave up 379 yards in the first half and looked like it was going to get run out of the stadium.
"We weren't very good in the first half of that game, but Alabama showed us a bunch of new stuff and we had to make some adjustments," said defensive coordinator Ted Roof. "What I like about my guys is they don't panic. They listen, they understand and then they go out and execute. You can't say that about every team."
Simply put, if you let the Tigers hang around until the fourth quarter they are going to find a way to beat you. Auburn has allowed 187 points in the first half of its games and only 117 points in the second half. Opponents have converted about 50 percent of their third downs in the first half. After the halftime adjustments, that number drops to about 25 percent in the second half.
And Auburn has shown this resiliency while its star player, quarterback Cameron Newton, continues to be at the center of the biggest story in college football. There is an ongoing investigation into whether or not NCAA rules were broken during his recruitment. For a couple of weeks the barrage of charges, countercharges, rumor and innuendo made for the worst kind of storm. But as a team Auburn weathered it. The Tigers rallied behind their quarterback. After surviving that, simply falling behind 24-0 at Alabama did not seem so daunting.
"I am proud to be around this team and nothing they do surprises me anymore," said Chizik. "I know I keep saying they are special, but they really are."
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