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September 28, 2012- -
AUBURN -- In the moments following his team's messy performance at Mississippi State a few weeks back, Gene Chizik told his players that now was the time to remain truest to their plan.
He again implored the Tigers to maintain their emotional investment, to keep believing, to keep taking steps toward improvement. Many of the players and operations that propelled Auburn to the national championship two seasons ago remain in place, he told them, and the only way to ensure a rise back to the top was to keep the faith.
Now he's following his own advice.
Kiehl Frazier hasn't played well this season. That's the most diplomatic way to phrase what has occurred. The sophomore has two touchdowns, seven interceptions and a completion percentage of 52.8.
His effect is inconsistent. Sometimes Frazier plays with conviction, steps into his throws and displays the power Chizik covets. Then Frazier will make a mistake, sometimes a minor one, and everything changes. He'll start watching the rush. He'll start loitering in the pocket. He'll jettison the same analytical approach that made him valuable before the mistake that occurred moments earlier.
In short, he's a volatile young player.
Chizik had every reason to bench Frazier after what happened in Starkville. Few quarterbacks can retain their job after throwing three interceptions and fumbling twice in the same game.
Yet Chizik sticks with Frazier.
Auburn's early-season schedule was taxing and yielded three losses. Frazier played solidly against Clemson, was miserable against MSU and has been no more than adequate in the two games since. Yet Chizik sticks with Frazier.
It's a show of faith. And it's not easy.
The easy road would have been to replace Frazier with junior Clint Moseley either in Starkville or heading into the Monroe game. Even with a compromised shoulder joint, Moseley likely would have given the Tigers' passing game a boost. Yet that would have compromised the development of someone Chizik believes will buoy this program in short order. He refuses to make those kinds of concessions because his faith in Frazier is unflappable.
Make no mistake about it: Auburn is gearing up for 2013.
The program will be at its peak in terms of personnel development. The defense will be loaded with experience. The same goes for the offensive line and running backs.
Wideouts will be a question mark, as usual.
And then the situation at quarterback. The plan going into 2012 was to take some lumps with Frazier, get him up to speed and move into 2013 with a confident, consistent leader.
That hasn't happened yet. Chizik is confident it will.
Why? He has a feeling about Frazier, who has all the raw talent needed to thrive in the Southeastern Conference. The biggest obstacles between the Frazier we see on Saturdays and the one Chizik sees in his head are both psychological.
Chizik coached at Texas. The Longhorns' head coach, Mack Brown, is Chizik's mentor. If it's good enough for Texas, it's probably going to make its way to Auburn in some form or fashion.
This shift from spread to pro-style? Texas made the move prior to the 2011 season. The Longhorns were well off their usual pace last season, going 8-5 with four double-digit losses. Quarterback David Ash was a mess - twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes and a completion percentage south of 60 percent.
Ash, now in his second season managing a pro-style offense, is among national leaders in passing efficiency. None of his 72 pass attempts has been intercepted. His completion percentage is up to 76.
Texas' passing yards are up 35 percent. Rushing yards are up 27 percent. The team is 3-0 and ranked No. 12.
Chizik believes his program will be following that same path next fall. To make that happen, he believes Frazier must be the quarterback. He's so sure of the plan that he's willing to keep a more consistent quarterback benched while Frazier continues his sometimes disastrous maturation.
It's a leap of faith many coaches wouldn't continue to follow.
Chizik doesn't care about that.
He's convinced Frazier is going to be a franchise quarterback who will help Auburn catapult itself back into the national scene.
He's just following the plan.