Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wednesday notebook

Approaching Gene Chizik about an all-access television show must have been a daunting task for executives.

The first-year Auburn coach, after all, is known for his cautious, guarded relationship with the media.

Instead, Chizik and Auburn jumped at the forward-thinking idea, albeit with one significant catch – the university gets final say in all editorial content. That decision ultimately resulted in the origins of “Auburn: Every Day…”

So far, Chizik likes what he has seen.

“Auburn’s a great story and we just felt like there were a lot of great Auburn people out there who would enjoy the every day part of it that very few people on the outside really have a chance to kind of see inside,” Chizik said. “I think it’s great for our players. I think it’s really great for our fans who love Auburn and I think it was cutting edge for trying to get us out there, our team to our fans.”

The show has featured Auburn preparing for games, showing the team in practices while also covering some hot topics. For instance, the cameras caught Kodi Burns’ speech to the team, which he gave after learning Chris Todd would start at quarterback and Burns would move to receiver.

While football is the main theme, “Auburn: Every Day…” also focuses on other team activities – such as a team trip to a water park, where some Tigers players dumped Chizik into a pool.

Though cameras seem to catch every moment, Chizik said the crew has not been invasive.
LB Craig Stevens said the team watches the show fairly regularly. This week that left TE Tommy Trott taking some grief from teammates.

The show featured a knee injury Trott suffered during the Mississippi State game, playing downtrodden music and reactions from teammates. It also showed Trott receive a supportive text message from fellow TE Philip Lutzenkirchen.

As it turned out, Trott didn’t miss any time. He returned for the West Virginia game and contributed with a couple big catches.

“I caught a little grief about the last episode, to be honest,” Trott said. “They started playing funeral music.”

“Auburn: Every Day…” can be seen Friday nights at 7:30 p.m. on WJXS-TV 24.

MCKENZIE GETS DEFENSIVE: Gabe McKenzie has spent part of his practice week getting a look at defensive end, Chizik said after Wednesday's practice.

The senior has played sparingly as a tight end this season. Chizik thinks McKenzie could help give Auburn depth at the position.

"We did. He's already played it before so he's already got a little bit of experience to bring in to the mix," Chizik said. "I don't know that we've done it enough to really have a great evaluation. We're just kind of tinkering with it."

McKenzie moved from tight end to defensive end in 2008. In 10 games at the position, he recorded 11 tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown against LSU last season.

When he moved back to tight end for the final few games, McKenzie said he was born to play tight end.

TOO FAST IS NEVER ENOUGH: Chizik is seemingly asked every week what he would like to see his team improve upon.

One of his consistent answers has been offensive tempo. From what offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn says, that will be a never-ending task.

“It’s never too fast, unless you’re at the end of the game trying to win the game and slow the thing down and run the clock out,” Malzahn said. “We’re going to continue to stress pace. Obviously, after we get a first down, our pace picks up. If we go three-and-out, obviously it doesn’t.

“We’ve just got to keep working at it. Our kids are starting to understand that. I think they are improving. At times we were very slow in the game, but a lot of it had to do with them. There were times when we got the momentum. You can really feel the confidence in our players when we do have momentum and we do have pace.”

Though neither Chizik nor Malzahn seems content with the pace, Auburn’s 236 total offensive snaps rank third among the most in the nation. Among teams that have played three games, only Texas (245) and Air Force (237) average more plays per game.

AIRING IT OUT: With the way Auburn ran the ball over the first two weeks, Malzahn knew defenses would eventually dare the Tigers to pass.

That finally happened Saturday against West Virginia.

Todd answered by throwing for 286 yards and four touchdowns in guiding the Tigers to the victory. Malzahn said the rest of the offense rose to the challenge as well.

“I thought he responded pretty well,” Malzahn said. “I thought our offensive line responded well because they’ve got some guys who can really rush the passer. Our receivers came up with some big plays, too. It was encouraging. From the get-go, they were going to stop the run. They rode that extra safety down early and made us throw the football.”

Though Malzahn wants to run a rush-oriented, play-action attack, he knows he can only do what the defense allows.

That’s what made Saturday’s passing performance so important.

“To be successful you have to be able to do both,” Malzahn said. “You have to be efficient running the football and throwing the football. They were going to take away the run. That was their plan. We figured there was a decent chance of that, but we didn’t think they would completely sell out like they did. They did, and we were fortunate enough to make some plays in the passing game.”

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