Auburn football: Tigers hope experience is best antidote to deal with long layoff

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 17, 2013 

Mike Haskey mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gets a hug from Dee Ford after the Tigers victory in the SEC championship game. 12/07/13

MIKE HASKEY

AUBURN, Ala. — It’s not normal.

That was the only way Gus Malzahn could describe the layoff between the final two games of his team’s season. By the time Auburn takes the field at Rose Bowl Stadium on Jan. 6, almost a full month will have passed since its last contest. That, of course, came on Dec. 7 in the Georgia Dome, when Auburn beat Missouri 59-42 in the SEC Championship game. Malzahn himself admitted that the coaching staff might have a harder time dealing with the extended break than the players.

But if he’s thankful for anything, it’s that he went through this in 2010, the last time the Tigers were in the BCS title game.

“I’d like to think that would definitely help,” he said. “I thought we had a solid plan in 2010. Anytime you have a month before you play, you’ve got to be strategic. You have to rest your guys enough mentally and physically, but keep them as fresh as you can and get your work done. Then you try to keep some type of routine — especially the two weeks before you play. I really felt good about our plan in 2010 and we’ll be fairly similar to that.”

One of the most important aspects — even as much as game planning for Florida State — is making sure players stay in tip-top condition. In that area, at least, Malzahn had few worries.

“That's one of our big advantages: that we're in great shape,” he said. “We've got to continue to do that. (Strength and conditioning) Coach (Ryan) Russell has a plan that he feels good about.”

The Tigers’ head coach isn’t the only member of the team used to handling this kind of prolonged downtime. Dee Ford is one of nine players on Auburn’s roster who was around during the 2010 title run.

The senior defensive end said that should pay dividends, especially when it came to mentoring younger players.

“We're going to be able to really tell them things that we wish we would have done and things we did well as far as preparing,” he said. “… They're going to be in our hands and we're going to be able to tell them what we did and keep moving from there.”

It was music to Malzahn’s ears.

After all, experience is one thing that can’t be taught.

“They’ve been there and they’ve done that,” he said. “The first time we went through it, I learned a lot. I know a lot of our players learned a lot. … It’s not just the fact that it’s 30 days, but everything that goes with (having) a spotlight on you for 30 days. So there’s a lot that goes with it.”

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