Chizik Talks Iron Bowl, Leadership

Auburn Coach Gene Chizik discusses the game against Alabama, talks injuries, leadership and much more.

Auburn, Ala.—Coming off a 35-16 win over the Samford Bulldogs, the Auburn Tigers (7-3) will take a serious step up in competition this weekend when the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide (10-1) comes to town for the Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Splitting the series in his first two chances as Auburn's Head Coach, Gene Chizik said Auburn's test will be a difficult one to say the least.

"I'm going to be honest with you this team, it may be the best out of all three," Chizik said. "When you sit there and watch them and you look at how physical they are, how sound they are, people are always going to talk about their defense, but you just go into their offense and look at third-down efficiencies and things of that nature, where they're really good at running the football, No. 1 in the league.

"They are very physical up front. This is not a good football team, this is a great football team we're playing. It's hard to compare any of the three, but I would say this is very, very similar in comparison to the first team we played back in 2009, if not a little better, in my opinion."

With so many young players that will be getting their first significant time in the Iron Bowl rivalry, Chizik said this week will have plenty of opportunities for the freshmen and sophomores to get acquainted with the rivalry and hopefully learn how to handle the week of preparation.

"You try to educate them the best you can with history, talking to other players, guys that have been in it several different years," Chizik said. "There's a lot of former players that we've had come in and talk to our teams about the importance of the game and things of that nature. We'll do all of those things. But the main thing is how we prepare on the field, how we prepare in practice, that's going to be the main thing, the intensity of that and what we have to do during practice this week to get ready. They have to understand what the level of intensity is going to be on game day."

Injuries still hampering Tigers

Auburn senior offensive tackle Brandon Mosley left the Samford game with a leg injury and Chizik said he'll be day-by-day this week leading up to the 2:30 kickoff on Saturday. The same is true of linebackers Jonathan Evans and Jawara White. Without them true freshman Justin Garrett got the start against Samford.

In Mosley's absence Chad Slade moved out to right tackle and redshirt freshman Eric Mack moved in to left guard for the Tigers. Chizik said Mack wasn't as physical as he had hoped in his first real action, but he said Slade did a solid job moving outside. "I thought Chad for him sliding out at tackle and being on the edge by himself, and in addition to his run blocking, I thought he did well," Chizik said. "Making a transition like that, from left guard to right tackle, I'm not saying he didn't have a lot of room for improvement, overall I thought he played well."

Gaston leaving program

Playing in 10 games this season with eight tackles, sophomore linebacker Harris Gaston has decided to leave the team according to Chizik. "Harris Gaston has decided to move on," he said. "He's going to transfer either at the end of this semester or at the end of the following semester. We wish him well. I just think the opportunities that he was looking for weren't necessarily going to be here. He loves football and he wants to play the game. His plan right now is to try to find another place to play."

Chizik talks leadership and the lack of improvement as a team

Auburn's struggles on the road this season have been well documented as the Tigers have been outscored 128-31 in the last three games away from Jordan-Hare Stadium. Much of that has been because of the opponents, three combined losses to Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia, but Chizik said his team hasn't developed like he had hoped no matter what the reasons are.

"I think some of that is us and some of that has been the opponents we've played," Chizik said. "I think it's a combination of both, but it's very apparent the progress we were hoping to make over the last few weeks hasn't been as rapid as we would have liked. I don't think there's any question about that."

Some of the reason for concern with Auburn at the moment is a lack of leadership on the field. With very few seniors and even upperclassmen the job has gone to sophomores to try to lead. Chizik said because of that there needs to be more from the coaching staff and everyone involved to bridge the gap until the leaders feel confident to step forward.

"I think it has a lot to do with young people," Chizik said. "I think it's got a lot to do with leadership. The leadership has to come from the coaching staff first. You can't have your sideline panicking when things don't go well. There have been some points in the year when we've been really good at it and there have been some points in the year when I feel like we have a lot of room for improvement. That's our job.

"You have guys that have the potential to lead, but they don't feel that comfort level yet because they don't feel like their production level has been to a point where they can step up to the front and say ‘hey this is what we need to do'. You've got to have some guys that have had some proven success for them to feel comfortable doing it. That's what leadership is. I think with time we'll definitely get that. We've got a lot of guys with that potential."

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