AUBURN – On the Sunday after rallying from a 17-0 deficit to beat Clemson in overtime, Auburn’s offensive linemen were met with a harsh dose of reality. Coach Gene Chizik had seen enough, and he told them so
He called them out publicly in his press conference on Tuesday and again before that day’s practice. With four seniors in the starting lineup, he told them, they were underachieving. They weren't’t physical enough.
Left taclkle Lee Ziemba
For an offensive lineman, there is no bigger insult. And so began the week leading up to last Saturday’s Southeastern Conference showdown against South Carolina.
Senior left tackle Lee Ziemba said Chizik’s words and what happened afterward won’t soon be forgotten.
“It started with getting our feelings hurt a little bit,” Ziemba said. “We decided Coach Chizik wouldn’t get up there in front of the team and say something that wasn't true. We had to look in the mirror. What can we do better to fix what had happened that last Saturday? We had to bring a new mindset out to practice, I guess just get a kick in the butt and be reminded what our job is and how we are supposed to do it.”
A fiercely physical Tuesday practice set the stage for a fiercely physical Saturday night. The offensive line answered Chizik’s challenge, paving the way for 334 rushing yards and 492 yards offense against one of the league’s top defenses. And again the Tigers came back, wiping out a 20-7 deficit for a 35-27 victory.
Next up for the No. 11 Tigers (4-0, 2-0) is an 11 a.m. kickoff at Jordan-Hare stadium against five-touchdown underdog Louisiana-Monroe. There will be, Ziemba vowed, no letting up.
“I know today it was the same deal,” Ziemba said. “You could say there is even more pressure not to be a one-hit wonder. The way we got called out last week is something you don’t forget over just one game.”
Senior center Ryan Pugh has seen games like the one coming Saturday turn into miserable slugfests. He has seen other teams lose this season to the likes of Jacksonville State and James Madison. This Auburn team, he said, won’t be caught looking ahead or behind. There is, he said, a tried and true way to be ready.
“Have a practice like we did today,” Pugh said. “I think today’s practice was great. There are times as a player you want a break. This isn't a big-time game, this isn’t an SEC game. You can’t think like that. I think Coach Chizik expressed it very well today, Coach Malzahn. All the coaches did.
Cemter Ryan Pugh
“That’s why we went out in pads today and really got after it physically. That is something we are starting to make a statement with. Every Tuesday practice is going to be a physical one. We have to come out and be prepared and focused. You have to work on your technique and be physical at the same time.”
For Ziemba, Mike Berry, Byron Isom, Brandon Mosley and Pugh, the mission now is clear. There can be no repeat of past mistakes. They don’t want to hear Chizik’s harsh words again.
“That’s our job, to be physical,” Ziemba said. “To be told you’re not physical hurts. I had my pride hurt. We tried not to show it, but we were all hurt pretty bad. I’m glad we got things changed around. We can’t stop there. We have to keep going.”