AUBURN – When the rain came midway through Auburn’s Tuesday practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium, it was welcomed with enthusiasm.
Left tackle Lee Ziemba will start his 50th consecutive game Friday/Phillip Marshall photo
When the Tigers play Alabama in the Iron Bowl on Friday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, temperatures are expected to drop toward freezing during the game. There is a chance of showers. Auburn coach Gene Chizik said the chance to work in inclement weather was valuable.
“We certainly could have gone indoors if we wanted to,” Chizik said. Instead, the Tigers took advantage of the opportunity to run, throw and catch with a wet ball on a wet field.
“Being able to handle the weather conditions we might have on game day, we really tried to block out the distraction of the weather and focus on what we needed to do,” Chizik said.
Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said the opportunity was particularly valuable for his players.
“We talk about keeping our shoulder pads over our toes,” Taylor said, “keeping everything within the framework of our bodies so there’s not a lot of slippage. With slippage comes pulled hamstrings, groins and things like that.
“It was a blessing today to be able to go out there and practice in the rain and get a simulation of how it might be. We were fortunate that happened.”
LANDMARK FOR ZIEMBA: When senior left tackle starts against Alabama on Saturday, he will break the Auburn record for consecutive starts. He has started all 50 games in his career.
Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said he’s not seen another offensive lineman accomplish anything close.
“No. 1, it’s incredibly difficult just to start as a true freshman,” Grimes said. “No. 2, to be able to do that consistently for all those games without missing any, that’s pretty unbelievable for a guy that has played in the trenches. That’s a pretty significant accomplishment.
“What I really appreciate is what he said about it at the beginning of the year. He said ‘It’s not the number of starts, it’s the quality of starts.”
Ziemba said he would wait until after the season to focus on what he accomplished.
“I think it will mean more looking down the road,” Ziemba said. “Right now, I’m just worried about the championship. That’s it.”
CHIZIK DEFLECTS CREDIT: Chizik was named a finalist Tuesday for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, but he said others deserve much of the credit.
“When you have success, different people are brought up for different awards,” Chizik said. “It’s nice for our players and our coaches, whoever might get recognized. By no means and in no way is that an award that directly reflects one guy.”
SENIORS IN CHARGE: Auburn’s senior class, almost two-dozen strong, has been a driving force in this season from the start. Taylor said it’s even more noticeable when a big game is upcoming.
“It is huge,” Taylor said. “As a coach, I don’t have to say anything. If a kid drops a ball, those older guys are already telling him ‘That will get us beat.’ If a guy isn’t getting lined up and we aer pacing and get a penalty because a guy isn’t in his stance right, those older guys are getting on him.
“The offensive linemen do a great job of policing each other. It was funny. (Brandon) Mosley had been downfield a couple of times on some naked calls. You look at the film and (Ryan) Pugh was holding him by his jersey to make sure he didn’t go downfield. That’s the type leadership we have on this football team.”
THIGPEN IMPRESSED: Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen said Alabama’s offense presents a myriad of problems. It all starts, he said, with quarterback Greg McElroy.
“Last year, I thought the quarterback was just decent,” Thigpen said. “Now he’s one of the premier quarterbacks in the conference. They put a lot more on him this year. Last year, you could tell he probably wasn’t able to check as much. This year, when the ball is on the line, they let him take control. He’s throwing the ball a lot more than he was last year.
“To us, it’s a lot more complicated than it was last season. They do a lot of things on offense that can present some problems. The quarterback is as good as we’ve faced, as far as his accuracy.”