As many questions as the experts had about the Tigers to start the season, Auburn Coach Gene Chizik had just as many about his team as well. One of those was how would they respond on the road in a different enviroment? While it wasn't perfect, Chizik said the win over the Vols showed him something about his team.
"I think it was more verification than anything," Chizik said. "The verification was similar to what we learned when we played at home. We'll keep playing for 60 minutes. Our kids are playing really hard. They're not necessarily playing really well always, but it was great to see them go into an environment where we didn't have the energy of 87,000 of our fans behind us.
"We had a great showing of our own fans, but mainly wanted to see how a bunch of young guys responded on the road. It was neat to see it. There really wasn't a whole lot of difference how we responded on the road versus how we played at home."
Even though Chizik downplays the ranking of his football team for the first time this season, it is a sign that his program is already grabbing the attention of poll voters from across the country. When that happens the chances of grabbing the attention of top prospects from around the country also increases. Chizik said it's nice to be recognized, but his team has a lot to improve on before it can be concerned about rankings.
"Obviously it's great, the higher the better," Chizik said. "At this point in the season though we've only played five games. At this point and time it's insignificant in some ways because it doesn't matter where you are now, it only matters where you are in November and December. We're happy to get the recognition. Our kids have worked really hard and our coaches have worked really hard to get where we're at."
One of the concerns for the Tigers in recent weeks has been the play of the defense. When you look at the overall numbers from Saturday night it would be hard to say that Auburn made a significant step forward against the Vols. Facing an offense that has been up and mostly down this season, Auburn allowed over 400 yards of offense and 22 points.
The good news for Auburn and Chizik is that much of the offense came in the fourth quarter with the Tigers determined not to allow any cheap scores. That and Auburn's play on third downs, holding Tennessee to just 4-17, was something Chizik said his team can build on.
"I don't know if it was our best (performance), but I thought we took some strides in the right direction," Chizik said. "That was a very physical offensive line, the best we've played against no question about it. They've got very good tailbacks. I thought we made some strides. I still think we're a work in progress without question. We've got to continue to get much better on the defensive side of the ball if we're going to continue to win in the month of October.
"When you know your opponent has to score three times you just don't want to give the game away by doing some silly things," he added. "There is a fine line in there between laying back and letting too much happen and tightening things up to where you still have to make tackles and keep things in front of you. The fourth quarter got away from us a little bit, but at the end of the day we're not looking numbers and stats."
Facing a talented and explosive Arkansas team this week, Chizik said his team will be focused on the task at hand and not worrying about the rankings. After all, that's what has gotten the Tigers this far in 2009.
"I know it sounds cliché, but we take it a day at a time and a week at a time," Chizik said. "We try to climb the mountain week by week and day by day. That's really where we're at. For me to say how good we can be, I don't think I could accurately say that and feel good about it. It's day by day and week by week for us."
The game has an interesting subplot with Chizik facing former fellow Auburn assistant Bobby Petrino for the first time as head coaches. While they are familiar with each other, Chizik said he's not sure how much it will play into Saturday's game.
"He remembers me for x amount of months, I suppose six or seven," Chizik said. "We were on the field together, but a large portion of that we weren't going against each other. I was around him enough to know that he's one of the best in the country."
Tiger Ticket Notes:
*Philip Pierre-Louis got his first action of the season for the Tigers Saturday night, returning two punts for nine yards. Chizik said he and Anthony Gulley would both continue to get looks at punt returner, but it doesn't appear PPL will be working into the playing rotation at wide receiver any time soon.
*Guard Bart Eddins got the first start of his career Saturday night and Chizik said he was proud of the way Eddins played and battled in the win. Eddins started because starter Byron Isom was out for the second consecutive week because of a suspension. Chizik noted that Isom's suspension will be over when he suits up again for the Tigers. When that happens remains a question mark.
*Auburn's game at Arkansas will be televised live on ESPN at 11 a.m. central time this Saturday. Arkansas comes in 2-2 on the season and 0-2 in the SEC. The Razorbacks bombed Texas A&M 47-19 Saturday in Dallas after falling behind 10-0 to open the game.