AUBURN, Ala. On Dec. 4 last year, Gus Malzahn arrived in Auburn to take over the Tigers head coaching position.
One year later, he has Auburn back in the mix for the national title. Assuming the reins of a team that went 3-9 last season, many may be surprised that Malzahn led Auburn to an 11-1 record and an SEC West title in his first year on the job.
Dont count Malzahn among that group.
Auburn is a great place. Auburn is a place that expects to win championships, he said following Wednesday nights practice. When I got hired, I just knew it was a matter of time. Our players have done an excellent job to put us in this position.
When asked to reflect on what the past 365 days have been like, Malzahn said he was humbled to even be in charge of Auburns program.
Im very blessed to be the head coach of the Auburn Tigers, he said. I really appreciate the guys who gave me this opportunity and believed in me. Its been a lot of fun and a blessing to coach this team. Were playing for the SEC Championship, so its been a good year.
To make it better, Auburn will have to beat Missouri on Saturday. Thats why he was pleased the team has had such a good week of practice.
The players have followed Malzahns lead, putting the incredible 34-28 victory over arch-rival Alabama last Saturday behind them.
The emotional thing is what I was concerned about more than anything, he said. I knew our guys would flip the switch. Were playing for a chance to win the SEC Championship, so theyve been extremely focused (taking) a businesslike approach. There (were) no distractions and they went about their business like they have all year.
But the coach still found areas to critique. He noted the one turnover Auburn had last week a fumble by running back Tre Mason in the second quarter cant happen on Saturday against an opportunistic Missouri defense.
Not only does Missouri lead the SEC in interceptions with 18, but it has forced a turnover in 42 consecutive games, the longest streak in the nation.
And Missouri is every bit as careful when it has the ball, as last Saturday's 28-21 win against Texas A&M marked the fourth straight game it didnt commit a turnover.
We cant have any turnovers, Malzahn said. Theyre very active. They go for the football and (they have) one of the better defensive fronts in all of college football getting after the quarterback, so that will be a big challenge.