TAMPA, Fla. — Under sunny skies and in warmer weather, Auburn had its final full-scale practice before Friday’s Outback Bowl against Northwestern, working out for just over two hours at the University of Tampa on Wednesday.
“Just a great day today,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. “Today was really our final preparation for the bowl. And I really thought focus was sharp and they were focused and tuned in, so I think it was a great way to end practice, really our last practice of the year.”
Auburn will do a walkthrough today at Raymond James Stadium, site of the bowl game, treating it like a Friday gathering during a normal game week.
Although today was sunny, there is a 60 percent chance of rain for Friday’s game, with a predicted high of 64 degrees.
“We’ll just play it by ear,” Chizik said. “All our preparation’s been done and in. And obviously circumstances can change what you may or may not do, but for the most part it’s set.”
Pick up the pace
Auburn might have averaged the most plays per game of any team in the SEC, but that’s not fast enough to appease offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, whose offense is based on speed.
“It’ll get faster, there’s no doubt,” he said “We’re not happy with our pace right now. Our number of plays needs to increase, and that comes with execution and getting first downs, too. We expect it to get quite a bit faster.”
The Tigers ran 842 plays per game this year (70.2 per game), ranking 38th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. That’s only a marginal increase from the 810 plays Auburn ran last year with a disjointed offensive coaching staff.
In his two years at Tulsa, Malzahn’s offenses led the nation in number of plays, with 1,097 in 2008 and 1,126 in 2007. The magic number for Malzahn is 70 per game, although the higher the better.
“We do pride ourselves in the number of snaps,” Malzahn said. “That’s a big thing for us.
“We’d like to get 70-plus snaps, and when we don’t reach that and we don’t win, that’s not good. Usually, if we have 70, we like our chances.”
Double the success
Northwestern might just now be getting recognized as a consistently solid football school, but it has always been an academic powerhouse. The private school in Evanston, Ill., was ranked as the 12th-best university in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings last year. Of the BCS-conference schools, only Stanford and Duke rank higher.
That challenges Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald, who said his team has a collective GPA of 2.98, with 54 players at 3.0 or better.
“To our coaching staff’s credit, they have embraced and believe in what we are and what we stand for,” Fitzgerald said. “You can have the best of both worlds, but it starts and ends with recruiting. We’ve got to attract the right kind of young man that fits our football program.
“Once you have that it’s kind of a vacuum that pulls everybody up. The culture within our locker room is to do the right thing, not just on the field, not just socially, not just in the classroom, but all areas combined, and I’m very proud of that.”