TAMPA, Fla. — Make no mistake: Auburn’s Philip Lutzenkirchen likes playing tight end, a position he has practiced all season as Tommy Trott’s backup.
But the versatile freshman has taken a liking to the H-back role he has filled in at the last few weeks.
“I’ve worked a lot at tight end, so I feel pretty comfortable there too, but I like the H-back and being able to motion and kick-out and play in space,” he said.
Lutzenkirchen might get some looks at both positions in Friday’s Outback Bowl against Northwestern. He is one of several options Auburn has at H-back, a position thin on depth after Eric Smith was ruled academically ineligible and John Douglas and Jason King were suspended for separate DUI incidents.
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The freshman has five catches for 66 yards and two touchdowns this season, playing in all 12 games. Although the 6-foot-4, 262-pound Lutzenkirchen is behind Trott on the depth chart at tight end, his ability to run, catch and block make him suited for the H-back spot.
“For that position, we ask a lot — to block, to run different types of routes,” Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “He’s got to do a lot of different things, and Philip has that skill set.”
“It kind of goes back to when we recruited Philip, how did we see him?” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. “We feel like he’s a versatile enough guy to wear a couple of different hats in this offense.
“So as time goes on with him and he gets older and matures and he understands everything, we feel sure he’s going to do that.”
What that means in the future is unclear. With Trott graduating, Auburn has a definite need for a traditional tight end, even if Lutzenkirchen is anything but.
“I would imagine they would tweak it a little bit,” he said, “but they’re still going to expect me to be able to do everything that Tommy is this past year.”
Florida coach Urban Meyer spent Sunday evening clarifying his decision to at least temporarily leave his position as the Gators’ head coach to improve his personal health.
Chizik knows first-hand the pressures and stress associated with coaching at a big-time SEC school and is aware the toll it can take.
“I think everybody is,” he said. “And it’s so competitive that you feel such an allegiance to your university and your players and your coaching staff, and that’s before you even get to the outside pressures of the world.
“And I’m very cognizant of it, and it’s just a tough, tough business and a lot of stress that goes along with it.”
Auburn enters the Outback Bowl against Northwestern as 7-point favorites. That’s not indicative of much this bowl season.
Entering Sunday, underdogs had won outright in six of the nine bowl games.
Chizik struggled to find an answer for a reason why underdogs seem to fare well in the postseason.
“Anything can happen in these games,” he said. “There’s so much involved in the preparation. Do you over-prepare? Do you under-prepare? Are your kids excited about playing? Sometimes kids expect to be in ‘X’ bowl game, and then they go to a different bowl game and their mentality changes because it’s not what they wanted. There’s all kinds of variables in there. … Every game is individualized and every game is different. So I just think it depends on the team.”
Expanded role for Hood?
With Auburn low on bodies in the secondary, Chizik thinks D’Antoine Hood, a former Central-Phenix City standout, could see an increase in playing time against Northwestern’s pass-happy offense.
Hood, a sophomore, has battled an ankle injury all season. He played in nine games this year, getting in on four tackles.
“He had some nagging injuries all year,” Chizik said. “I feel like the last three or four weeks he’s come on. He’s healthier. And he needs to come on for us. We need his help. We’re hoping in the bowl game he can come out there and give us some plays.”