On Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Tigers rallied from 20-7 down to take an exciting 35-27 SEC football victory over South Carolina at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Sparking the comeback was a brilliant performance by junior quarterback Cameron Newton, who rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries and completed 16-21 passes for 158 yards and two more scores.
"They have the word respond that we use a lot," Chizik said after his team improved to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the SEC. "Our guys have just responded. It is not always pretty. There are a lot of things as we look back on it are not good.
"These guys are fighting, clawing and scratching and trying to find a way to win every week," Chizik said. "That's just so much appreciated as me being the head coach, and all the assistants as well because we know these guys go to fight for Auburn and they fight for us and they fight for their teammates. Because of that, you know you have a chance to have a good football team."
"We are not playing great on both halves still," Chizik added. "In the first half we turned the ball over twice and in the second half we got four turnovers. It is just team wins. It is just team wins. When one side is not doing well it seems like the other side steps up but more than anything that I notice about our football team is they are coming together as a team and they don't ever flinch and that is hard to get.
"We are starting to get that and we are starting to have a personality of some sort.," the head coach added. W"e have to play much better and much more consistent, but they will fight, they will fight."
Cameron Newton scores for the Tigers.
While Chizik was excited about the intangibles, there were a lot of tangibles to like in addition to the ones put by Newton.
Michael Dyer won the battle of the freshman tailbacks. He ran the football 23 times for 100 yards to outduel his friend and fellow freshman standout, Marcus Lattimore, the South Carolina tailback who came into the game averaging 111 yards per game, but gained just 33 yards on 14 carries vs. the Tigers.
"I have never been into worrying about statistics," Dyer said. "The important thing is to win the game and I am excited we did that." However, he did admit it was fun to get his first collegiate 100-yard game and be relied on when the game was on the line.
Another statistic that Chizik or any coach could love is the Tigers recovered two fumbles and intercepted two passes, all in the second half. Coming into the game the Tigers had just one interception for the season and one fumble recovery.
The second interception by Demond Washington in the end zone with 33 seconds left ended South Carolina's last threat as the Gamecocks fell to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the SEC. That was a fitting ending to a wild second half in which the Auburn offense got into a groove allowing the Tigers to score three touchdowns and keep the South Carolina offense on the sideline much of the third and fourth quarters.
Demond Washington is shown intercepted a pass thrown by backup QB Connor Shaw, who threw both of the Carolina interceptions.
"We were able to play fast and that was what we were looking to do," said senior offensive guard Mike Berry. Berry said he thought Auburn's second half pace was the best it has been this year and he said the offensive line responded to the head coach's challenge to be physical.
Offensive tackle Lee Ziemba said the offense's ability to make good yardage on first downs was the key to success on a night in which the Tigers rushed for 305 yards vs. a defense that came into the game allowing an SEC best total of under 60 per game.
"I was really proud of our offensive line tonight," Chizik said. "We challenged them all week to make this a physical football game. I don't think there is any question that happened tonight."
Thanks to a score at the end of the first half for a second straight week, the offense took momentum into the third quarter. That is when the Tigers regained the lead by driving 80 yards on 11 plays with Newton scoring on a three-yard run.
However, the Gamecocks quickly regained the edge as quarterback Stephen Garcia hooked up with Alshon Jeffery for a 69-yard pass play to set up a short pass play for a TD to regain the lead at 27-21. Auburn struggled to cover the 6-4 sophomore all night. He caught eight passes for 192 and scored two TDs.
Auburn regained the lead at 28-27 after botching a scoring opportunity when Brandon Mosley, in his first start at right tackle, was called for illegal procedure. That took a one-yard Newton TD leap into the end zone off the scoreboard and forced Auburn to settle for a chip shot field goal, but Wes Byrum bonked the kick off the upright and it appeared the Gamecocks had dodged a bullet.
However, Garcia fumbled the ball on the next play on a hit by Daren Bates and T'Sharvan Bell recovered at the 26. Four plays later Newton found Philip Lutzenkirchen uncovered in the end zone on third and six from the seven to take the lead.
Auburn added another score on its next possession after Mike Blanc recovered a Garcia fumble on the AU 47. Blanc said after the game the defensive theme going into the contest was to force turnovers.
The Tigers scored nine plays later as wide receiver Emory Blake made two defenders miss on a short pass to the flats for a 12-yard TD play.
Leading by eight with 6:23 to play, the Tigers had to hold off two threats. The first ended on an interception by Josh Buynes at the Auburn 11 with 3:19. The second was Washington's interception in the end zone.
Auburn won the toss and deferred. The Gamecocks took the ball and managed a first down before punting to the Tigers, who moved the football 80 yards in just five plays to take a quick 7-0 lead.
The touchdown came on an option play as Newton kept the ball at right end and raced 54 yards for a touchdown, diving head first inside the flag to beat the backside pursuit. With Wes Byrum's PAT the Tigers led 7-0 with 8:50 to play in the first period.
However, the lead didn't last long as South Carolina matched Auburn with an 80-yard drive of its own. Stephen Garcia hooked up on a perfectly thrown pass to Alshon Jeffery, who beat Neiko Thorpe in the end zone for the score.
An Auburn turnover on its second possession set up the next score. A fumble by Mario Fannin put the visitors in excellent field position at the Auburn 44.
After the fumble recovery by Shaq Wilson it took the Gamecocks seven plays to punch the ball in for a score. Marcus Lattimore scored from a yard out with 1:04 left in the opening quarter.
The Tigers turned the ball over again in the second quarter and once again Wilson was there to fall on the football for the Gamecocks. Michael Dyer lost control at the South Carolina 48 after a big hit with 9:32 left in the second quarter.
The Gamecocks moved the ball into Tiger territory before facing a third and seven at the 22-yard line. A pass over the middle to tight end Patrick DiMarco kept the drive alive with an 11-yard gain.
The Gamecocks burned the Tigers again on the next third down, this time Jeffery beat man coverage by Chris Davis at the goal line for a touchdown. A botched PAT left the Gamecocks ahead 20-7 with 6:16 left in the second quarter.
The Tigers needed to do something to change the momentum, and Newton and the offense rose to the occasion. Mostly on runs by the junior quarterback, Auburn marched 76 yards on 12 plays to cut the gap to 20-14 with 46 seconds left in the half.
Newton scored the touchdown on a keeper out of the shotgun formation on third and inches from just outside the three-yard line.Newton had runs of two, nine, six and 16 yards on the drive and hit passes to Darvin Adams for 10 yards, seven and five yards on the way to the end zone.
At halftime the Tigers had gained 147 rushing yards with 73 through the air while the Gamecocks had 44 rushing yards and 158 through the air. The big difference was the two Tiger turnovers while the Gamecocks had none.
At halftime Newton had completed 7-9 passes for 73 yards and carried the football nine times for 97 yards.