"I thought we had a really good practice tonight," said Chizik, whose team will take on the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday. With a victory the 10-0 Tigers, who are 6-0 in the conference, will clinch a berth in the SEC Championship Game.
"I thought the energy level was really up, and I thought the focus was right where it needed to be," Chizik said. "I think our guys are excited to play and they don't need to be ready to play now, obviously, but I think Saturday they will be excited and be ready to play a game with a great crowd, a great environment--all the things this game is about."
Chizik said the Tigers are "fired up to play and practice," but noted that "touch-up work" is needed to get the game plans polished for Saturday's SEC contest. "I thought they had a lot of energy and had fun in practice," he said.
A pair of injured starters, linebacker Daren Bates and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, are both making good progress from shoulder injuries and are expected to play vs. the Bulldogs. Cornerback T'Sharvan Bell, who Chizik said he considers a "starter" because he plays so much in Auburn's nickel and dime coverage packages, is also ready to play.
"Really and truly, I have been happy with the way all three of them have progressed," Chizik added.
Bell, who injured his hamstring vs. LSU, is looking good in practice, according to Phillip Lolley, who coaches the cornerbacks. "He has had a very good week of practice," said Lolley, who noted that Bell also practiced last week although he was held out of the Chattanooga game.
Lolley said that the Auburn cornerbacks have their biggest challenge they have had to date covering Georgia star A.J. Green, who Lolley said is the most talented wideout the Tigers have faced this season.
One of Auburn's key defensive players, junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley, was named as one of the four finalists for the Lombardi Award on Wednesday evening. Chizik said the recognition is well deserved and noted the Tigers are going to need Fairley to play even better down the stretch run of the season for the Tigers to be successful. He added that Auburn's pass rush will be a huge factor in Saturday's game.
The Tigers continue to be a big play offense under the direction of coordinator Gus Malzahn. Through 10 games the Tigers have 36 plays of 35 yards or longer with 18 of those plays touchdowns. In 2009 the Tigers produced 22 plays that covered 35 or more yards. In 2008 before Malzahn came to Auburn from Tulsa, the Tigers had just nine plays that covered at least 35 yards.
"Coach Trooper and Coach Malzahn have been a lot of help," he said. "They have definitely helped me with my confidence. Coach Trooper has helped me with my technique because he knows so much about the game."
Coming off his best receiving game with seven catches for 148 yards last week, Zachery said Auburn's crisp offensive performance will help his team's confidence going into the Georgia game.
The Tigers had a strong all-around passing performance last week. Zachery said his team has the capability to move the ball well both running and passing. "It is just really whatever the defense give us," he said. "If they stack the box we are going to pass the ball. If they don't have enough guys (near the line) we are going to run the ball."
Zachery said that Cam Newton is doing a good job of focusing on what is a big game for the Tigers on Saturday despite being constantly in the news in recent days. "He is not really thinking about it, he is focusing on Georgia," the senior said.
Zachery said he sees the offense continuing to improve. "It is like every game we keep building up, keep building up," he said. "Every practice we just keep getting better."
Saturday's game will be Zachery's final one at home. "This is a big week--the last time the seniors will play in Jordan-Hare," he said. "It hasn't quite kicked in yet."
Chizik had praise for Zachery after Wednesday night's practice. "I think the offense has been really good for T-Zach," Chizik said. "I think that Coach Troop has done a tremendous job with all of the receivers. I think if you just look at the production of our receivers in the past two years and you can compare it to two years ago, I think for most of them it is night and day.
"It is a product of what we do offensively and it is a product of us having a lot of trust in those guys and those guys really working hard to develop in the offense," Chizik said. "For the most part, when you are looking at a receiver like T-Zach and some of the other ones, too, you have got to look at the opportunities they have had and have they taken advantage of the opportunity.
"You can throw a guy a ball or throw a guy a screen and he can get tackled for five yards or it can be a 50 or 60-yard touchdown and I think what T has done is he has taken great advantage of the opportunities he has got. Obviously, it gives us confidence to keep going to him. I am really, really proud of him all the way around. He has graduated already, he has become an extremely productive football player for our team and is just a great kid."
Terrell Zachery is a senior from Wadley High.
Receiver coach Taylor is just as high on Zachery. "The kid will do whatever you tell him to do," Taylor said. "If you said, ‘T-Zach, play left guard he would say, yes sir.' That is exactly what you get from him.
"He has learned how to practice like a game," Taylor added. "When we first got here it was kind of 20 periods and just get through it."
Taylor said, "He is a special kid. The kid has already got his degree. If you didn't call his name you probably wouldn't hear his name because he doesn't talk very much, but when he does it carries a lot of weight. When we started practice this week, he told the other receivers, ‘Not one drop.'"
In other news:
*As was the case at the SEC Coaches Teleconference, Chizik said he wasn't going to comment on the on-going series of media reports concerning quarterback Cameron Newton that he called "garbage" on Tuesday. "I know you have a job to do and I respect that, but my job right now is Georgia and this weekend," the coach told reporters after practice. Chizik said the only questions he wanted to talk about are ones that pertain to this week's game.
*Kickoff for the Georgia game is set for 2:30 p.m. CST and it will be televised on CBS.
*In Auburn's 23 games with Malzahn calling the plays, the Tigers have reached the 500 yards mark 10 times with six of those coming this season. Prior to his arrival Auburn had gone 40 games without gaining 500 yards. The last one prior to Malzahn's arrival came in 2005 vs. Georgia.
*On Saturday senior left tackle Lee Ziemba can tie Will Herring's school record for consecutive games started for the Tigers. He has started every game since he came to Auburn from Rogers, Ark., a string of 48 contests.
*The only player on the team who has participated in more Auburn games than Ziemba is redshirt senior Mario Fannin, who has been in 50 contests. He played as a true freshman, but received a medical hardship redshirt, so that explains how he has been in more games than Ziemba.
*Chizik said that containing Georgia kickoff return star Brandon Boykin will be a key to victory. Boykin has 1,616 career kickoff return yards, which is 21 yards shy of the UGA career record. He is averaging 28.6 yards per return this season, which leads the SEC.
*Georgia's offense has been playing well in recent games, Coach Mark Richt said on Wednesday. He noted the Bulldogs have played better since the return of receiving star A.J. Green from a four-game suspension. The Bulldogs have topped the 30-point mark for five straight games, something that had never happened in school history. The Bulldogs are averaging 42.8 points per contest in the last five games and have won four of those contests to even their record at 5-5.
*Green has 32 catches for 510 yards and seven touchdowns in six games this year.
* Georgia is 13th nationally in rushing defense (106.4 yards per game) and 15th in total defense (305.5 yards per game).