Oct. 11, 2010
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- The Auburn Tigers have used defensive stops and overtime fortune to remain perfect.
The seventh-ranked Tigers (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) showed Saturday night they can do methodical, too. An offense normally geared toward speedy drives suddenly started gobbling up the clock and small chunks of yards.
The result was a 19-play, 86-yard drive for a field goal that finished off a 37-34 win at Kentucky and the Tigers' third three-point victory of the season.
"Last night was another new way to win," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Sunday. "All the wins have been great. I've been really proud of our team the way they've won. Last night was probably different than most. I just think it's hard to win with a 19-play drive, eating up seven-and-a-half minutes and then kicking the field goal with no time left so you don't give a potent offense time to get back on the field.
"It's really neat to see us be able to do those."
The various survival techniques have helped Auburn move to the front of the SEC pack in rankings, one spot ahead of former No. 1 and chief rival Alabama.
The next two weeks will test those skills. The Tigers, 6-0 for the first time since going unbeaten in 2004, host fellow SEC West contenders No. 12 Arkansas and No. 9 LSU.
They have won with defensive stands (Mississippi State and South Carolina) and a missed field goal in overtime (Clemson). Then came a drive that equaled the Tigers' second longest ever in number of plays.
Auburn hasn't been 3-0 in games decided by three points or less since 2001.
This time a botched reverse on a kickoff return set the stage for the Cam Newton-led marathon drive. Demond Washington fumbled trying to hand off to Terrell Zachery on a doomed attempt at trickery. Three third-down conversions and 10 Newton runs later, Wes Byrum kicked a 24-yarder as time expired.
"We had a reverse called, and we had it," Chizik said. "We had it walled off, we had it sealed off and we had one guy get penetration and we just felt like all night we were set up to be able to run it. We had a bobble on the exchange because we had some penetration in there, so the outcome wasn't exactly what we wanted.
"The offense kind of took a negative situation -- and there was a couple of critical third downs that we converted on -- and basically took the game over."
The one constant in Auburn's narrow wins -- including a 35-27 victory over No. 10 South Carolina -- has been Newton. He ran for 198 yards and four first-half touchdowns. He also passed for 210 yards and was 2-for-3 on the final drive with both completions going for first downs.
Newton said he liked the demeanors on the sideline during a timeout on that possession.
"There wasn't really anybody sitting back and looking around and everybody was (upbeat) and had some type of positive energy to them to say, 'By any means necessary, we're going to get first downs. We're going to hold onto the football and just play smart,'" he said.
"We had so much confidence in our level of play that we just need to get the ball into field goal range. We trusted that Wes would do his job."
Chizik thinks the close calls have been confidence builders. He'd still like one where Auburn either didn't have to come from behind or nearly blow a lead.
The Tigers were up 31-14 in this one late in the first half.
"I feel like we're still in search for a really good, all around four-quarter game. I don't think that we've had that yet," Chizik said. "We've just got to continue to work every week and try to get better at some of the little things. As I've said every week, I don't feel like we're where we need to be. I'm very proud of our team that we've continued to fight and battle. They don't look at the scoreboard. They just keep playing."
Like most teams, the Tigers work on different end-of-game scenarios at the end of practices. But milking 7:22 off the clock to set up a winning kick is not among them.
"It was really good to see us win one that way," Chizik said. "That's hard to do."