Gene Chizik spent most of the offseason trying to convince Auburn nation that he was the right man to bring the program back to glory.
He spent Sunday trying to convince people that things haven’t been as easy as they’ve looked in two one-sided victories to start the season.
“I don’t think it’s been easy at all,” he said. “There were times in both of those games when things were back and forth. I don’t know what it looks like on the outside. I know what it looks like on the inside.
“We’re not playing perfect, and there’s a lot of times that we’re not playing very well at all. We’re a work in progress.”
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From the outside, everything appears to be clicking for Auburn (2-0, 1-0 SEC), which followed a season-opening 37-13 win against Louisiana Tech with a 49-24 victory Saturday against Mississippi State.
Gus Malzahn’s fast-tempo offense trails only Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas nationally in total yards per game (572.5), ranking 14th in the country in points per game (43.0).
The Tigers rank second nationally to Air Force in rushing yards, averaging 345.5 per game. Running backs Ben Tate (137 ypg) and Onterio McCalebb (131 ypg) are first and second in the SEC in rushing, a credit to a veteran offensive line that has jelled quickly the first two weeks.
“I told them, and I say this facetiously, that I’m not buying stock in them,” Chizik said of the o-line. “I say that tongue in cheek and joking because they really have come a long way. But I just don’t want anybody to get ahead of themselves now, starting with the o-line or anything else with our football team.
“It ain’t as good as it seems, and it ain’t as bad as it seems. We’re just trying to be realistic, and that’s really how I feel.”
Chizik is particularly wary of the hype with West Virginia, a team that beat Auburn 34-17 last year in Morgantown, W.Va., visiting Jordan-Hare Stadium this Saturday.
Despite losing four-year starting quarterback Pat White to graduation, the Mountaineers (2-0) still have performed well under the direction of Jarrett Brown. West Virginia has averaged 34 points in its first two games against Liberty, a Football Championship Subdivision team, and East Carolina.
Brown has completed 75 percent of his passes as the Mountaineers have tried to open up their passing game. And Noel Devine, who gashed the Tigers for 207 rushing yards last year, has picked up where he left off last season, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns in the first two games.
“Those two combinations for a defense aren’t good,” Chizik said. “So there’s no one area that you feel is going to be more important than the other.
“Do you want your eyes poked out or your nose cut off? I mean, which one do you want? It’ll be a great challenge. This offense can get it cranked up.”
Special teams remain a concern for Chizik after Auburn had a series of miscues against Mississippi State. Clinton Durst shanked a punt and had another blocked and returned for a touchdown in the second quarter. The Tigers rank 117th nationally in net punting (24.1 yards).
The return games, meanwhile, have been uninspiring. The kick return unit’s longest run is 28 yards, and a variety of punt returners largely have been ineffective.