Gus Malzahn's impact, players' motivation cement turnaround

Nobody doubting 'new day' mantra

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 30, 2013 

Auburn University

Senior Gabe Wright (90) and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will welcome San Jose State to Jordan-Hare Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff on Sept. 6.


AUBURN, Ala. -- After Auburn's improbable 34-28 victory over Alabama on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Tigers coach Gus Malzahn was asked whether it was the best win of his career.

"I've got a lot of emotion right now," he said, somewhat ducking the question. "It ranks up there, there's no doubt."

A quiet female voice from the side of the room, presumably from his wife, cut him off.

"Just say yes," she urged, to which Malzahn obediently replied, "Yes."

Yes, the win has to rank among the best, not just for Malzahn but for Auburn period.

After trailing by 14 in the first half and by seven inside of a minute to go in the game, and then watching as the Crimson Tide lined up for a 57-yard field goal with one second left, overtime looked like the best possible outcome.

Instead, Chris Davis returned Adam Griffith's missed field goal 109 yards for the game-winning score with no time left on the clock giving Auburn the win and sending it to the Southeastern Conference championship game next Saturday.

The fact is, though, it is just one of a handful of stunning victories the Tigers have pulled off this season, Malzahn's first as head coach.

Two weeks ago, it was Ricardo Louis and the tip drill, hauling in a long pass from quarterback Nick Marshall on a fourth-and-18 to defeat Georgia 43-38. And there was the 45-41 win over Texas A&M on Oct. 19, when the Tigers defense stepped up late in the game to keep 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel out of the end zone.

Any one of those performances can and will be looked at as highlights in a season that has the potential for more than just an SEC championship.

Add to it the fact this team went winless in SEC play a year ago, and the turnaround is even more impressive.

While many players and coaches advise leaving the past in the past, Tigers running back Tre Mason, who rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries against Alabama, said last season is one of the main reasons the team is having so much success in 2013.

"Hunger," he said when asked what leads the team to its late-game heroics. "A lot of guys are hungry. They're motivated from last year. … We're not going to forget about it. You can't. A lot of guys use that as motivation. I know I do. And it's helping."

A handful of other players said they've called upon their faith in the biggest of situations this year.

"Faith," Dee Ford said. "Believing in what the coaches say and what we tell each other. That's something we've built up all year and we keep finding ways to win."

"We believe," safety Jermaine Whitehead said. "We've been put in situations where a lot of people can write us off, but we just kept believing. To go from one of the worst teams in college football (last year) to one of the best. We just wanted to have the best turnaround in college football, and it's paying off."

It's paying off with a win of the SEC West division and there is a chance it could pay off with a SEC title next week and perhaps even a national title down the road. Whatever the reasons for the team's turnaround, the words Malzahn has spoken over and over again rang truer on Saturday than ever before.

"It's a new day," he said. "There's no doubt."

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