The Daily Northwestern

Opponent Preview: Breaking down the Auburn Tigers

Brian Chappatta

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Don’t let Auburn’s 7-5 record fool you: Like the Wildcats, the Tigers are playing their best football of the year, even though they lost their last game.In the “Iron Bowl” between Auburn and Alabama, the Tigers pushed the Crimson Tide to their limit and nearly ruined their National Championship aspirations. But with less than two minutes left in the game, Alabama took the lead and held on for the win.Despite the outcome, Outback Bowl representatives noticed the Tigers’ grit in that game. A combination of that determination and other quality wins throughout the regular season helped swing the decision in Auburn’s direction.”Auburn beat Tennessee, Auburn beat Ole Miss, and then the last game against Alabama, I think Auburn can play with anybody in the country,” Outback Bowl President Jim McVey said. “This is a deserving team, there’s no question about it.”McVey also alluded to the high-profile athletes on Auburn’s squad. One such player is senior running back Ben Tate, who has rushed for 1,254 yards and eight touchdowns on the season, in addition to garnering more than 100 yards receiving and returning kicks.The Tigers’ passing attack is equally as formidable, with senior quarterback Chris Todd at the helm. He has passed for 2,377 yards and 21 touchdowns. Junior Kodi Burns also takes snaps in every game, but is used primarily as a rusher, scoring four touchdowns with his legs, compared to two with his arm.”What I saw was a really balanced attack offensively,” NU senior defensive end Corey Wootton said. “They have a great passing game and a great running game. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”For Auburn, going to the Outback Bowl is a marked improvement from last season’s 5-7 regular season record, and shows the progress made under first-year coach Gene Chizik.”What we wanted to do this year was start by building a foundation for what we think is going to be a great future,” Chizik said. “This is a great culmination of a lot of hard work and a year’s worth of setting that foundation.”Auburn spent significant time adjusting to its new coach and new system early in the season. Now that the team has 12 games under its belt, Chizik plans to use the extra practice time to refine the little things and give younger players on the roster experience.”It’s an opportunity for us to get more practice time in there, and obviously being a new staff, the more practice we get the better shape we’re going to be in,” Chizik said. “Our main objective is to win our eighth game of the year, but it’s also important to get some of these young guys some work too.”The Tigers are going to need a strong offensive effort to win on New Year’s Day. Auburn ranks third in the SEC in scoring offense and total offense. The Tigers magic number is 25 – they are 7-0 when scoring more than 25 points and 0-5 when scoring less than that mark.And nothing would be more magical for Chizik than capping off his first season at Auburn with a win on Jan. 1, 2010.”You look back at being able to end the season with an Outback Bowl invitation against a great team from the Big Ten,” Chizik said. “Everybody wants a New Year’s Day bowl.”

brianchappatta2011@u.northwestern.edu

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