The beginning of the Gene Chizik era at Auburn was better than most people expected. The Tigers (7-5, 3-5) won their first five games and soared into the national rankings.
But with a serious numbers problem and an even more serious lack of depth problem, Auburn hit the skids once it got into the teeth of its SEC schedule. The Tigers lost five of their last six SEC games, although that final loss might have been the best game they played all season.
Coming off their bye week, the Tigers jumped out to a 14-0 lead on Alabama and hit the Crimson Tide with everything they had. But Alabama staged a late drive to win 26-21 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Tigers were a lot of fun to watch on offense, and when they had it going, they were difficult to stop. First-year coordinator Gus Malzahn spread teams out with his no-huddle attack and wasn’t afraid to try anything. They seemed to hit a lull, though, in back-to-back losses to Kentucky and LSU in which they didn’t score more than 14 points in either game.
The real problem was on defense. The Tigers were last in the SEC in scoring defense and gave up 41 touchdowns this season.
Offensive MVP: Ben Tate, RB. He prospered in Malzahn’s offense and had a huge senior season, rushing for 1,254 yards and eight touchdowns. Tate averaged 5.2 yards per carry and was easily the Tigers’ most consistent threat. Receiver Darvin Adams also had a big year with 10 touchdown catches.
Defensive MVP: Antonio Coleman, DE. Despite not having big numbers at the beginning of the season, Dunlap closed with a flurry. He led the SEC with nine sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss and was a consensus first-team All-SEC selection.
Turning point: Having lost three in a row after its 5-0 start, Auburn put the brakes on its skid and whipped Ole Miss 33-20 at home in a game that was absolutely a must-win for the Tigers.
What’s next: The Tigers were picked over several other 7-5 teams to play in the Outback Bowl and will face Northwestern. It’s another chance to put a positive stamp on Chizik’s first season on the Plains. To take that next step in 2010, the Tigers will need to get better on defense. They should be deeper next season.