Atlanta, Ga.—For the second consecutive day the Auburn Tigers were in full pads as they prepare to face Virginia in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve in the Georgia Dome. Focusing on all aspects of the game with a big emphasis on special teams, Coach Gene Chizik said his team continues to put in the work to be successful.
"I thought we had a good practice today," Chizik said. "They have been very focused. They had a lot of energy again today. We went full pads again today and I thought they got a lot out of it. We still need a lot of practice, but I think they are working in the right direction."
With so many young players on the roster this could be an important game for the Tigers as they head into 2012. Just two years ago Auburn beat Northwestern in a thrilling game in Tampa to set the stage for a BCS National Championship season. Chizik said not winning the game doesn't mean disaster, but a win could be very big.
"Obviously you want to end your year with a win," Chizik said. "This is an opportunity for us to do that. The momentum that it can give you as far as propelling you into next season, that's big, too. We know that two years ago it certainly helped us when we won the Outback Bowl. I don't think it's a deal breaker on what that means for your next season, but it certainly gives you momentum when you win."
In addition to what a win would do for the overall confidence of the team heading into the new season, it's also big for individual players as they try to capture the attention of the coaches one last time before spring practice. With true and redshirt freshmen dotting the depth chart at every position he said it's basically like an audition for those guys before 2012.
"I don't think there's any question," Chizik said. "This is kind of their pre-spring practice if you will. We expect them to come out here and be farther along than they were four weeks ago. They've had rest and time to get away from football and then take it all back in and it's their second time doing it. I think a lot of our young guys are getting better out here at these practices."
Special Teams Getting Work
One of the focal points for any team as it prepares for a bowl game is on special teams and Auburn is no exception. Spending a great deal of practice time in that area throughout bowl prep Chizik said it's always important to make sure you are sound in that area with such a long layoff between games.
That's a little worrisome because that's when you see some things happen that normally don't happen," Chizik said. "You see blocked punts. You see kickoffs returned for touchdowns. And I don't know why that is.
"I was watching a bowl game the other day…Southern Miss blocked a kick, in the championship game I think it was against Houston. I do worry about that so you have to really, really be up on your special teams. Our special teams have really been something we've had to rely on for field position. We're taking a lot of time on that."
A bright spot for the Tigers this season has been the punting of Steven Clark. A finalist for the Ray Guy Award, the sophomore had a great day punting the ball in Tuesday's practice and Clark said that's one of the perks he enjoys about playing in a dome.
"It's definitely a lot better because you don't have any gusts of wind or any wind at all to really worry about," Clark said. "It makes the drop a lot more consistent. You don't have to lower your drop to try to kick it. You just have lean back and lay into it."
New Look Defense?
Ask Robenson Therezie and that's what he believes Auburn fans will see Saturday night against Virginia. The true freshman has played on defense and special teams for the Tigers this season and sees a much different group under the direction of Chizik.
"The new defense we got, and with Coach Chiz coaching us back there, it's a lot different," Therezie said. "And we go hard, too. There's a lot of expectations with the head coach coaching up the defense because he can evaluate us more easy. When the game comes, you're going to see a big, big difference in the defense from a few games ago until now.
"It's a big difference, because everybody's got to do their job now," he said of the defense. "Everybody has to get to their landmarks and play their position. At first, we were kind of running around with Coach Ted coaching us. Now we understand the game more because Coach Chiz made it more simple for us, one step at a time."