'Hats off to our players': Gus Malzahn deflects praise, credits team for turnaround campaign

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 26, 2013 

AUBURN, Ala. — Nearly every week, Gus Malzahn strikes the same refrain.

Auburn’s coach said he takes everything “one game at a time” and that his sole focus is seeing that his team improves each time it takes the field, be it a practice or a game. To his credit, Malzahn readily admits to this redundancy, saying he understands that he “sounds like a broken record.”

Monotonous as it is, no one can argue with the results, as the Tigers are 10-1 overall and No. 4 in the BCS Standings. A win over top-ranked Alabama on Saturday will give Auburn the SEC Western Division title and a spot in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 7.

While Malzahn has received a large portion of the acclaim for the team’s success, he preferred to praise his players instead.

“Hats off to our players,” the coach said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “I’ve said it before — it doesn’t make any difference who we are playing, they’ve found a way to get better whether it’s a I-AA (FCS) opponent or whether it’s a top 10 opponent. They’ve had the same mindset, and they’ve been prepared each week, and we are going to need to do that again this Saturday.”

This year’s Iron Bowl comes after Auburn’s second open date of the season. The Tigers’ first bye week followed its only loss this year, a 35-21 road defeat to LSU on Sept. 21. Since then, Auburn has ripped off seven straight victories.

Much as they did during that first open date, Malzahn said last week was mainly spent on correcting issues that cropped up recently.

“Any time you have a bye week, you get a chance to remove yourself from the moment to look back at the things that you really need to improve on and build upon those things that you are good at,” he said. “I think that definitely helps you.”

One aspect Auburn addressed was its field goal and extra-point unit.

In each of its last two games, the Tigers have had a kick blocked.

“We focused extremely hard on that,” said Malzahn, noting a blocked PAT versus Tennessee and a blocked field goal against Georgia. “The things we need to improve on we’ve really focused on in the locker room. Hopefully we will be better, not only in that area, but some of the other areas also.”

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