Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Gene Chizik's Top 5 Auburn Games: No1 - BCS National Championship '10

When Gene Chizik was hired, it was frowned upon by every Auburn fan. Fans/Alumni/Students were scratching their heads when Jay Jacobs hired Gene Chizik to be Head Coach at Auburn, but two years later Auburn has gone from a losing program into a National Champion. Chizik had to rebuild the program from a down-ridden 5-7 program into a National Contender, and it happened quicker than expected. Across the state, our bitter rivals had just won a National Championship and they looked to be not only on top of the state but on top of the country. But that didn't stop Gene did it?

Auburn's 2010 season was a wild ride. Even though Auburn finished undefeated you won't be the only one who thought there were times that Auburn was down and out, times where you just wanted to shake your head in disappointment, and times where you wanted to throw furniture around your living room. But just as Champions do, they find a way to win and all those wins were lead by you know who.

Auburn were coming into the bowl break sitting at 13-0 and were SEC Champions. Auburn got their bowl bid to play Oregon in the BCS National Championship game in Glendale, Arizona which was an exciting prospect for fans to be able to go out there and watch Auburn win their first ever BCS Title. Cam Newton had just been to New York to win his well deserved Heisman Trophy and Auburn were one step away from winning it all.

As the game grew closer the excitement was building everywhere. Fans began to gather around the UofP Stadium and atmosphere was starting to build. I was stuck in England to watch it, but on the day of game day I just could not contain my excitement. It felt like the game was still days away to me, but I knew in reality kick-off was closer than anticipated.

Glendale was rocking, fans were hollering, players were pumped and then came kick off.

The entire game in itself was (from my view) a real defensive battle. People were right when they said the large layoff would hurt the hotstreak of both offenses. Auburn had laid 56 points on their last opponent in the Georgia Dome so you knew that their offense was on a roll.

The first score of the game came when Oregon's Rob Beard hit a 26 yard field goal to give the Ducks an early 3 point lead. But that was short lived as some time
later Cam Newton hit Kodi Burns on a pass in the middle of the field, and after a quick juke and a short sprint Kodi leaped into the end-zone and Auburn had claimed a 7-3 lead. I was incredibly happy for him to get that touch down. It was his first touch down of the season and it ended up being one of the biggest scores of the season. He
is the epitome of an Auburn man.

A few minutes later on the 8-yard line, Darron Thomas rolled to the right and caught the Tigers defense off guard as he threw a short pass to LaMichael James, and he did the rest as he walked into the end-zone. Instead of kicking the extra point Oregon went for the two point conversion and it was successful after Rob Beard dived into the end-zone and Oregon claimed an 11-7 lead.

After Auburn strolled down the field on a long drive, Cam Newton had the chance to re-take the lead on a pass to Eric Smith, but severely under-threw the initial pass. That play still ruffles me to this day as it was very rare to see Cam under throw a pass like that. Eric Smith did make the catch but it slipped out of his hands. I don't blame Smith at all on that play, not one bit.

But it seemed to be a blessing in disguise. Oregon took possession very close to their endzone and a hand-off to James resulted in a safety after Mike Blanc found his way into the backfield, and even after James stretched out the ball it wasn't enough. Auburn closed the gap to 11-9.

On the next drive, Cam Newton hit Emory Blake on a 30 yard pass. Blake was left wide open and he just walked in to give Auburn the lead at 16-11. That play capped off a great season for Blake, and he will definitely become a weapon on Auburn's offense this season as well.

Then came half-time, and Auburn were 30 minutes away from winning it all. They had to hold on, and they had to make the plays. In the third quarter Wes Byrum hit a 28 yard field goal to extend the lead to 19-11, which ended up being the only score in the quarter. However after that field goal Thomas hit Tunei for a deep pass across the middle and it looked like he was about to score, until DeMetruce McNeal made a last gasp leg tackle stopping him just yards away from the goal line. Oregon looked destined to score didn't they? Think again.

1st and goal, Barner took a hand off and was stopped short by Corey Lemonier. 2nd and goal Thomas faked a hand off and tried to take it himself on the outside but was knocked out of bounds. 3rd and goal from the 5 yard line and LaMichael James was yet again stopped short. Then came 4th and goal and Oregon didn't want the 3 points. A reverse by Kenyon Barner was stopped as you know who (Big Nick) got in there to stop the dive in. Auburn had just made a huge stop on defense, and whilst Auburn's pass defense has been blasted all year, the run defense this year was much better than people thought. People forget that Auburn had contained LaMichael James, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Marcus Lattimore last season.

Then came the fourth quarter, which was full of drama, controversy and luck.

The fourth was scoreless until the last two and a half minutes. Both teams were trying their absolute best to finish each other off and Oregon tied it up, after LaMichael James took an option pass from Darron Thomas and found his way into the end-zone. The score was at 19-17 and I knew immediately that the Ducks were going to try for the two. I was standing still with the hands on my mouth and just praying that they didn't get it. Two and a half minutes was enough for Auburn to run the clock out and win it. I couldn't imagine going into over time. The ball was snapped, Thomas looked, fired and hit Jeff Maehl after he leaped for the grab. The game was tied at 19 a piece and there was time for one final drive. What a drive it was...

As the drive ensued, the offensive MVP of the night came up and made a huge play on offense. Michael Dyer recieved a hand-off through the middle and he was taken down 5 yards short of the first down mark. Think again! Dyer got up and was ready to give the ball back to the referees, but no whistle came and Auburn's sideline was shouting at Dyer for him to keep running, and Darvin Adams was doing the same. Dyer kept running and it ended up being a 37 yard gain for Auburn. A review came and even though I never saw the replay, I was sure that his knee was down. I was wrong, as the replay clearly showed that Dyer was
never fully down.

Nick Saban said it best on that play. "Defensive players must finish the play", and I don't think anyone can disagree with that. If a player spins around on top of your body you have to think somehow that his body never fully touched the ground. Did Dyer know this? Did the defender?

Who knows.

A few plays later, Dyer burst through the midde, spun around and got into the end-zone. We thought it was all over until it was reviewed. Dyer was very much down and Auburn got the ball on the one yard line. After a failed sneak by Newton, the Special Teams crew stepped onto the field where Wes Byrum was about to hit his most important field goal of his career. Wes has had a great great time at Auburn, and no one will forget his winning field goals against the likes of Kentucky (2010) and Florida (2007).

Byrum stepped back.

The ball was snapped.

Caudle held.

Byrum booted it through the uprights. Auburn had just won the BCS National Championship.

When the kick went through I couldn't process what had just happened. I've been an Auburn fan for only four years but I had such a surreal feeling after that kick, and I literally couldn't believe that after all the team went through the last 13 games, everything that was slung at the University, every comeback they made, every time they held on to win, Auburn were now the Champions.

The 2010 team held its own legend. They had their own strengths, their own weaknesses, their own luck, their own plays, their own will to win. Auburn had tried damn hard the last three decades to win another National title. 1983 didn't get the chance, 1993 didn't and neither did 2004.

I guess in a way, Auburn could have dedicated its title to all three of those teams that didn't get the chance that the 2010 team did. But like I said, this team is in its own right. They came into September 2010 with the will to win every game and they damn sure came away successful.

Gene Chizik lead this team to a title. He achieved what hasn't been done since 1957 and it came within two seasons of being head coach at Auburn. People can say everything they want about this title only being because of Cam Newton, or Gus Malzahn. But who put it all together? That's right, you know the answer.

It was truly a team effort last season, one saying has been drummed through the team and fans this year. The fans have been loud every game, the players have given 110% every game and the coaches did what they do best. This team never gave up.

Brief moments of happiness and great plays came down to one saying.

They were ALL IN