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The Chizik Era Starts With A Bang

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One game doesn't make a season, but it sure makes a Labor Day weekend. It's hard to imagine an opening weekend victory going any better than Auburn's 37-13 win over Louisiana Tech Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The night was full of unlikely heroes, with Tiger coach Gene Chizik topping the list. Few new coaches have endured the scrutiny that Chizik has since his hire last December. On Saturday, he showed the nation that he still knows how to coach. His on-field enthusiasm was a breath of fresh air for Auburn fans. Maybe he means it when says this job is his dream.

While Auburn struggles with depth problems, it didn't seem to show on the offensive side of the ball.  How about these stats: 556 yards of offense with 327 coming in the second half and 301 yards rushing. That's quite an improvement over last year's performance against Alabama where it tallied 170 yards of total offense.

What can you say about freshman Onterio McCalebb? Fans witnessed the single greatest career opener by an Auburn running back in school history. When the night was finished, the freshman from Fort Meade, Florida had thrashed the Bulldogs for 148 yards on 22 carries. Take that Bo Jackson.

"Onterio is a very good football player," said Chizik following the game. "He needs to stay very humble which he will. I think Gus and our offensive staff do a great job of moving him around and finding different ways of getting him the ball so there are some means to the madness there. He has a chance to be a very good football player here at Auburn."

And don't forget Ben Tate who added 118 yards. There were so many great storylines that we could talk all day about them. How about the new and improved Chris Todd who looked more like a three year starter than the most maligned quarterback on the team heading to fall camp? 

How about Kodi Burns who after two long years finally appears to have found his place on the team? The best moment of the night was undoubtedly Chizik meeting Burns on the sidelines after the junior scored the night's first Auburn touchdown.

"We told Kodi he was going to help us win football games," said Chizik. "He is here for the team. He is an Auburn man. I said it before, and I will say it again, it was really awesome to see that young man score. He came off and I said I told you that you were going to help us win games. It is great to see a guy who is that selfless. Good things happen to good people."

We've listened to wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor rave about his unit for the last month. Now we know what he's talking about. Not since the days of Taylor, Aromashodu and Obamanu have Auburn receivers turned in such an impressive performance. The competition at practice during the past month showed up early and often Saturday with Terrell Zachery and Mario Fannin leading the way.

What should give fans hope this year is how the Auburn coaches adjusted their game plan at the half. After struggling to a three point halftime lead, coaches headed to the locker room and emerged with a plan to slow the Louisiana Tech offense.

It worked. The Tech offense never recovered.

"I think it was a combination of things," said Bulldogs coach Derek Dooley. "Once we got behind them a little bit, it changes a little bit of your mentality, and then they switched to man-to-man in the second half. They were playing zone early on and we were able to pick at it early on. Once they covered us up, their guys were playing better than our guys and we just couldn't win."

Auburn now turns its attention to Miss State next Saturday. When players watch film this week they'll see enough progress to be optimistic, while seeing enough mistakes to know there's work to be done.

We still don't know much about this 2009 Auburn team, but it looks better than anything we saw last season. At this point we can ask for little more.

Bring on the Bulldogs - again.