Auburn, Ala.--Since he first stepped on the field in the season opener against the Louisville Cardinal redshirt junior offensive lineman Alex Kozan has been fighting to find the form that saw him early freshman All-American honors in 2013.
Coming off a back injury and subsequent surgery that cost him an entire year, Kozan said early on this season he wasn’t sure of himself and it made for a rough start against the Cardinals. Since that time, however, he said with every passing day he’s getting closer and closer to what he wants to be on the field.
“Each week I feel myself getting a lot better,” the Auburn guard said. “I probably had my best game this past game against Kentucky. I feel myself getting back to where I was and progressing even further.”
Noting that he hasn’t even thought about the injury since being cleared, Kozan said for him the biggest hurdle was getting over the rust caused by sitting out so long, something that has been a constant battle this season.
“I would say it was more mental for me,” Kozan said. “I wasn’t completely back with the speed of the game and getting back out there and shaking off those butterflies and jitters was good.”
That happened for Kozan late in the win over Jacksonville State. With the Auburn offense struggling to find its rhythm the Tigers finally got something going late following a short punt from the Gamecocks. Punching in the tying touchdown and then the winning score in overtime was a big deal said Kozan.
Even with the comeback win it didn’t mean a positive move for the team overall, however, as the Tigers continued to struggle, losing on the road at LSU and again at home against Mississippi State, but the wheels were set in motion for change against the Bulldogs when Sean White was inserted into the lineup.
Auburn’s starting quarterback the last three weeks, White has guided an offense that has improved week-by-week, putting together its best performance of the season last week in the win over Kentucky. Just a redshirt freshman, White has improved his play each time out and Kozan said it has been fun to see him take over.
“He’s started to get that confidence in him,” Kozan said. “I would say versus Mississippi State he was a little, not passive, but like anybody in their first start you’re not sure what to expect. Now that he kind of gets what’s going on and has those butterflies out there he’s focused on the game and trying to help his teammates get better.”
That was evident on the road against the Wildcats as White connected with Ricardo Louis for four plays of longer than 20 yards in the passing game, helping open running lanes for Peyton Barber and Kerryon Johnson by taking the safeties out of the box more often. Those big plays were instrumental in a victory that Kozan said was very important for this team heading into the second half of the season.
“It was a great confidence booster for our team, especially after the first two SEC games,” Kozan said. “To go out there and get a win was really important for our guys. To battle through some adversity in the third quarter and be able to pull out a win was great to see for our team.”
Now the competition level steps up for the Tigers as they get ready to face an Arkansas team that is one of the most physical in the country on both sides of the ball. Kozan said that’s something you get used to playing in the SEC and Auburn is ready for a battle.
“They do a good job with both their lines so we’re getting ready and they’ll be ready,” Kozan said. “It will be a good match-up.”