Auburn-Kentucky: Gut Check Week for Chizik and the Tigers

Robert BrooksCorrespondent IOctober 15, 2009

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 19:  Head coach Gene Chizik of the Auburn Tigers looks on during the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

While last week did not go the way Tiger fans hoped, take a step back and realize not all is lost.

Arkansas is a much better team than many give them credit for, and the defensive schemes they threw at the near unstoppable Auburn offense proved to be extremely successful despite being ranked last in the SEC in total defense.

Auburn has a chance to get back on track this week, and with Kentucky coming into town, they have a chance to do that in a huge way.

The Tigers are still barely outside the Top 25, and technically hold their destiny in their own hands.

Win out, play for the SEC Championship. While it’s a tough task, and one that may not be feasible, not many expected to be able to say that after Week Six of this season.

The Plainsmen have been able to do this with a defense that has been living on the wild side all season, and in Fayetteville last week, that was finally exploited.

A team cannot live off of turnovers alone, and when you don’t get stops, you won’t win games. It’s not that there isn’t any talent for defensive coordinator Ted Roof to work with; he just doesn’t have much “healthy” talent to throw out there.

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Freshmen are being rushed to take on even more hefty roles than they originally thought, and any time you take a glaring four scholarship linebackers into a road SEC contest, one is just asking for trouble.

Eltoro Freeman, a highly touted linebacker who was expected to make a significant impact this season may finally be back this week. Chizik has yet to officially announce that, but he is back practicing after not traveling last weekend.

The defense could take another significant hit this week with secondary leader Walter McFadden possibly sitting out after suffering an injury last week.

Luckily, the Kentucky Wildcats aren’t exactly a group that strikes fear into teams. While they always seem to surprise one team every year, it will be tough from here on out without injured starting quarterback Mike Hartline, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn MCL.

Kentucky had a chance to knock off South Carolina in Columbia last week, had Hartline not gone down early in the second half. The Wildcats fell 28-26 in a game where they held the lead in at halftime.

While this doesn’t mean Kentucky will be a pushover win, it does give Auburn somewhat of a sigh of relief. This is exactly the type of game the depleted Tigers need to get back on track.

A night game, on the Plains, nationally televised, and with a something left to prove are all the right reasons for the Tigers to come out Saturday night and show the country the first five weeks were no joke.

Auburn better get ready, because after this, it becomes an uphill battle. LSU, Ole Miss, UGA, and Alabama will take advantage of mistakes even more hastily than Arkansas did. Like Coach Chizik said to the team after the loss last Saturday, “This can be the best thing to happen to this team, or it could be the worst.”

We’ll find out how the Tigers respond to their first bit of adversity Saturday. From what we’ve seen so far, Auburn knows how to make adjustments, and one should expect them to do just that.

It only takes one game to get back on track, just ask Florida about their two national championship seasons.

This is the week the Tigers make that adjustment, and this is the week the Tigers prove to the country that we won’t lay down in the second half of the season. As Gene Chizik would say, go out and “DO WHAT WE DO.” The rest will take care of itself.