Auburn players find new motivation heading into Iron Bowl

abitter@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 25, 2009 

  • NEXT GAME
    OUTBACK BOWL
    Northwestern vs. Auburn

    When: 11 a.m., Jan. 1

    Where: Tampa, Fla.

    TV: ESPN

    Radio: WVRK-FM 102.9

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s players don’t have a shortage of opinions about last year’s grisly Iron Bowl outcome.

Linebacker Craig Stevens called it terrible. Wide receiver Kodi Burns said it was a big mess. Defensive end Antonio Coleman thinks back and still gets angry.

But the Tigers have tried to temper their emotions following last year’s 36-0 beatdown in Tuscaloosa, the most lopsided result in the rivalry since 1962.

“We don’t talk about it that much, but we watched the video to kind of get us to remember that feeling from last year,” Stevens said. “We don’t want to re-live it again.”

It was the nadir of a forgettable season for Auburn with far-reaching consequences. It dropped the Tigers to 5-7, caused them to miss a bowl for the first time in nearly a decade and raised the heat on head coach Tommy Tuberville to a boiling point. He’d resign less than a week later.

“It was terrible,” Stevens said, “but so was the whole season.”

A year later, new Auburn coach Gene Chizik isn’t using last season’s disappointing outcome as a motivator.

“We are not living in the past, although history is always made in this game,” Chizik said. “The year before is in the record books and it is history. We don’t dwell or constantly live in the past and motivate through what happened here and there. This is a new time and a new year.”

Chizik took a similar tack during Auburn’s three-game skid in the middle of the season, when questions invariably came back to whether he felt the players thought things were spiraling out of control like last year.

“I didn’t worry about the players earlier in the year when all the questions were about whether or not things were going south because it happened last year,” Chizik said. “But that didn’t happen, so I don’t think that they live in that world either.”

Nevertheless, last year’s loss still stings for the group that was involved in it. A heavy underdog, Auburn stuck close through the first half, going into the break down just 10-0 to the No. 1 team in the country.

“We weren’t playing bad football,” Coleman said.

Things quickly got out of hand in the second half, however. Alabama took advantage of two Auburn fumbles in the third quarter, scoring three touchdowns in all, two by running back Mark Ingram.

The Tigers’ offense got worse with time. With tight ends coach Steve Ensminger serving as the de facto offensive coordinator, Auburn managed only 178 yards.

After looking back at the game film, Chizik said Auburn had some “missed opportunities” throughout the game. Players were less diplomatic.

“We laid an egg last year,” said Burns, who started at quarterback with Chris Todd sidelined by a shoulder injury. “All of last year was just a big mess. So you think about it, but at the same time we really didn’t give ourselves a chance, you know, running different offenses every game and everything being in total disarray. It was pretty difficult.”

“That taste stuck in our mouth for a long time because we didn’t get back on the field for another nine months or so,” left tackle Lee Ziemba said. “It was pretty tough on us.”

The Tigers have a vastly different outlook this year. They’ve already locked up a bowl bid, regardless of Friday’s result. The offense has done a 180, going from 104th nationally to 12th since Gus Malzahn was hired.

And the coaching staff, instead of drudging up bad feelings from last year, has gone a different route. Chizik showed the team legendary coach Pat Dye’s locker room speech following Auburn’s 30-20 victory in the 1989 Iron Bowl, the first-ever meeting between the rivals at Jordan-Hare Stadium, hoping it would motivate them.

To Chizik, last season’s outcome has no bearing on this year’s.

“We’ve moved on,” he said. “There is no relation between the two.”

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