Gene Chizik's Mission: Teach Auburn to Be Road Warriors

Chris BertelliContributor IOctober 25, 2010

LEXINGTON, KY - OCTOBER 09:  Gene Chizik the Head Coach of the Auburn Tigers is pictured during the SEC game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Before the season started, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit picked Auburn to win the SEC West. The second BCS polls have pushed Auburn to the No. 1 spot after starting 8-0 with four wins over teams currently ranked in the BCS Top 25.

Things could not be better in the Loveliest Village on the Plains as the talking heads all dream of an Iron Bowl with both teams winning out.

But danger lurks long before that November 26 date, and I’m not talking about the Georgia game.

When Herbstreit picked Auburn to win the West, he said that Auburn’s schedule was a big reason for doing so. As SEC schedules go, the Tigers could not ask for one much more conducive to making a serious run at playing in Atlanta in December.

Auburn plays only four games on the road, with two of them against the rebuilding Mississippi schools and one against middle-of-the-pack SEC East foe Kentucky before the trek to Tuscaloosa.

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Like this year, the 2009 Tigers only ventured out of Jordan-Hare four times but finished a dismal 1-3 in those games. Auburn was thoroughly dominated early at LSU and at Arkansas while fading in the second half against Georgia.

Early this season, Auburn won a sloppy game against Mississippi State in Starkville before returning home for three straight games and then beating Kentucky after allowing them to rally from 17 points down to tie the game in the fourth quarter.

Auburn hits the road this week for the third time against Ole Miss in need of a road win that does not require fourth quarter heroics.

On paper, Auburn should win this game convincingly. Heisman front runner Cam Newton has made the Tiger rushing attack a nightmare for opposing defenses (I’m looking at you, John Chavis), and Ole Miss’ defense is ranked 101st in the FBS.

While Ole Miss’ offense has improved as Rebel QB Jeremiah Masoli has had more time in the system, it still only managed 10 points against Alabama and scored three second-half touchdowns against an Arkansas team that built a 21-3 first half lead. Both of those games, however, were on the road, and the Rebels come home for the first time since scoring 42 against Kentucky early in October.

Auburn’s defense played very well against a really bad LSU offense that is not as good as Ole Miss and had to bail out its (not so) special teams where poor play led to Auburn starting inside its own 5-yard line three times.

Auburn has played three very difficult games in a row and is in desperate need of a break to help injured members of the already thin back seven heal and to rest the offensive and defensive lines. They must be as exhausted mentally as they are physically after playing six of their eight games down to the wire. Cardiac comebacks are harder for hurt, exhausted players.

They will find no quarter in Oxford on Saturday as head Rebel Houston Nutt is sure to pull out all the stops to get that signature W at Ole Miss he desperately needs after failing miserably under the weight of expectations in 2009 and pulling a 180 and bringing in the troubled Masoli this fall for one season.

Auburn under Chizik has yet to prove it can put together four good quarters against an overmatched opponent on the road. It will need to overcome injuries, weary legs, inconsistent play and a wild-eyed head coach on the other sidelines to avoid this particular “bear” trap.