published Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Auburn keeps winning the close ones

Auburn running back Michael Dyer, left, looks for a hole in the South Carolina defense during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, at Williams-Brice Stadium, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Brett Flashnick)
Auburn running back Michael Dyer, left, looks for a hole in the South Carolina defense during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, at Williams-Brice Stadium, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Brett Flashnick)
Photo by Associated Press.

The Auburn Tigers had been striving this season to move on from last year's national championship team, but then offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn selected "Five Delay" late in last Saturday's game at South Carolina.

And the thrills and memories of last year were evoked in an instant.

Rolling right in the same manner as former quarterback Cam Newton in last November's game at Alabama, Barrett Trotter had the Gamecocks in pursuit before throwing back across the field to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen for a 9-yard touchdown that catapulted Auburn to a 16-13 upset. The same play had worked from 7 yards out early in the fourth quarter at Tuscaloosa and capped Auburn's 28-27 comeback.

Lutzenkirchen insists there were no flashbacks before the deciding snap in Columbia.

"It really didn't cross my mind," he said. "The pace of our offense is so fast that they just dial the play up and we run it. If it doesn't work, we go to the next one, but that one worked."

Although the Tigers had their 17-game winning streak snapped with a 38-24 loss at Clemson on Sept. 17, they are proving to be just as exciting as last year's cardiac bunch. Auburn executed an onside kick to rally past Utah State 42-38 in the season opener and then stopped Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf a foot short of the goal line as time expired to hold off the Bulldogs 41-34.

Those first two wins provided some confidence to a program that returned fewer starters -- six -- than any FBS team nationally, but last week's win over the No. 10 Gamecocks took that morale to another level.

"This was a huge landmark victory for us moving forward with what we're trying to do at Auburn," coach Gene Chizik said moments after improving his record with the Tigers to 26-6.

Auburn has now won a staggering 11 straight games decided by a touchdown or less.

"For you to have the ability to win games in the end, I think you have to have to have done it previously," Chizik said. "For teams that can't quite close the doors on those type games, there's a bit of doubt that probably creeps in their mind a little bit. In the two and a half years that I've been here, I don't think there's been any of that in our kids' minds."

Auburn jumped to No. 15 in this week's Associated Poll after its biggest win of the post-Newton era, but the Tigers remain a work in progress on both sides of the ball with Arkansas, Florida and LSU next on the schedule. The defense had been porous until Saturday's showing, while the offense continues to evolve as the midseason approaches.

Sophomore tailback Michael Dyer, the MVP of January's BCS title game against Oregon, carried 14 times against Utah State and Florida Atlantic but had 41 rushes for 141 yards last Saturday. His carries tied the program's single-game high set by Carnell Williams against Georgia in 2001, and his 113.4 yards per game ranks 18th nationally and third in the SEC behind South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and Alabama's Trent Richardson.

Incidentally, Dyer has outperformed Lattimore on the ground, 305-183, in the three head-to-head meetings with South Carolina since the start of last season.

"When we get the opportunities to run the ball, and we feel good that those opportunities are there, we'd really like to get Michael in the groove," Chizik said. "He has started out well this year. I think he's running a little more physical than he did last year, and he's a little more downhill."

Said Dyer: "We just go with what's working and focus on the things that we do best and not really worry about the other team."

Nobody was expecting Trotter to replicate Newton's 2,854 passing yards or 1,473 rushing yards from last season, but the 6-foot-2, 206-pound redshirt junior is holding his own. Trotter has completed 73 of 122 passes (59.8 percent) for 895 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions, though one of his picks snuffed out Auburn's chances at Clemson.

Touted freshman backup Kiehl Frazier is getting worked into Malzahn's offense a little more each week and has rushed 13 times for 81 yards.

"It's been fun so far, and it's been exciting," Lutzenkirchen said. "We're kind of finding the identity of our team as the season goes on, and we're needing new players to step up every week. We were a real fortunate team last year that won the national championship, but after we got our rings, we kind of put last season to bed.

"The only thing we've done this year in regards to last year is to get that same mentality and same swagger that no one is going to beat us."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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