Chizik Sees Progress In Practice

A report on Wednesday night's Auburn football practice features news and notes on Gene Chizik's Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--An upbeat Gene Chizik said his football team is making progress after it wrapped up Wednesday night's practice as his Tigers prepare for an SEC game on Saturday at Kentucky.

"I think we have had two really good days of practice and the guys are focused in," the Auburn head coach said. "We have had a couple of physical days and I think we are a better football team than we were at this time last week."

Auburn will look to improve its record to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the SEC on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky.

"We have got to go out and execute well and be very sound in what we do," Chizik said. "It's been a good week so far and we have tomorrow and we need to continue to improve."

The Tigers practiced for two hours in shorts on Wednesday evening putting in the game plan. They will have a final tune-up on Thursday before heading out of town on Friday.

Chizik is hoping when the Tigers get to Commonwealth Stadium they will continue a recent defensive trend. After struggling to take the football away from opponents the first three games, the Auburn defense has come up with eight turnovers in the past two games.

With four against South Carolina and four more vs. ULM the Tigers put together back-to-back games with four or more turnovers for the first time since the 2002 season when the Tigers got four vs. Mississippi State and six vs. Vanderbilt.

In the last two games the Tigers have scored 35 points on their possessions immediately following the turnovers. For the season the Tigers have come up with 10 turnovers and have turned the ball over nine times.

Those kind of numbers from the past two weeks make Chizik a happier head coach. "It is huge," he said. "We have got to keep forcing turnovers. We have got to capitalize on them when we do.

Gene Chizik's Tigers are ranked eighth nationally in both major polls.

"As everybody knows, protecting the football offensively is huge," he said. "We have been good at that some and sometimes we have been sloppy. Defensively, lately we have been able to force a few turnovers, which is good to see. We went for a while there where we weren't getting the ball back very much for our offense.

"I think we have forced some lately and we need to continue to do that, and to do that in special teams," he added. "I think it is huge factor in this stretch."

At this time last season running back Onterio McCalebb wasn't much help to the offense with an ankle injury that limited his effectiveness, but going into game six he is healthy and running strong.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said that a full-speed McCalebb has been a major plus for the Tigers and the coach has been pleased with how McCalebb has been able to take a licking and keep on ticking in 2010.

McCalebb, who noted that he prays every night to stay healthy, said that he has been doing what he can to avoid injuries. "I am in the training room even when I don't need to be in the training room for treatment in the hot tub and the cold tub to get my body going," he said.

The Tigers arrived at game six last season undefeated and then lost three straight games. McCalebb isn't expecting a repeat performance.

"Everybody is more focused, everybody wants to win, everybody walks around talking about this year is the year for us to go take it all the way," said McCalebb, who added that the 2010 group of Tigers is a better football team than the 2009 team.

Chizik agreed that having a healthy McCalebb is a plus. "He is a big part of our offense and having him healthy at this time of the year is a little different than where we were last year," the coach noted. "Obviously he is a threat on the perimeter and we will continue to use him that way.

"With all of our running backs healthy it is a huge part of the equation," Chizik said. "Having him healthy is obviously a big deal for us right now and he has been playing well. He has done some really nice things in the last few games and he needs to improve like everybody else."

In other news and notes:

*Backup quarterback Barrett Trotter, who hurt his knee while scoring a touchdown vs. ULM, practiced on Wednesday night and will make the trip to Lexington. Chizik said that the Tigers have the luxury of having four quarterbacks on this team who he believes can be successful.

*Saturday's game at Commonwealth Stadium will kick off shortly after 6:30 p.m. CDT with television coverage on ESPN2. Mark Jones will do the play by play with Bob Davie the analyst.

*Through five games the Auburn offense has produced 13 plays that covered at least 35 yards with nine resulting in touchdowns. The Tigers are on pace to easily surpass last year's total of 22 plays of that length.

*Under Malzahn the Auburn offense has produced five passing plays that covered 70 or more yards including a school-record 94-yard hookup last Saturday between Cameron Newton and Emory Blake. In 115 years of Auburn football prior to Malzahn's arrival the Tigers had just 24 pass plays that covered 70 or more yards.

*Commenting on the secondary, Chizik said he wants to see the group do a better job of taking away "explosive plays" as the Tigers prepare to play Kentucky. He said to do that the entire defense needs to step up its performance level as the Tigers prepare to face a Wildcat offense that has big-play potential with its stars Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb who sparked UK to a 21-14 upset win of the Tigers last year in Auburn.

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