Auburn football: Tigers lean on Malzahn's experience, underdog status during turnaround season

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 1, 2014 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI Auburn fans cheer for coach Gus Malzahn during the Tiger Walk before the Iron Bowl. 11.30.13


COSTA MESA, Calif. — Upon his arrival at Disneyland Resort for a media appearance on Tuesday night, Gus Malzahn was presented with a stat.

In his 22 years as a coach, his teams have played for a championship 13 times, including Monday’s BCS title game.

To what did Auburn’s coach attribute all this success?

“I've been blessed to have a lot of really good players and a lot of really good coaches, just like this year, to get to that point,” he said. “Any time you play for championships, if you have experience before, it's got to help. Hopefully we'll be able to lean on some of that.”

Not that it should come as any surprise given the stakes, but Malzahn was pleased to note how “excited” his team looked from the moment it stepped on the plane Tuesday to head westward. More importantly, after having a couple weeks to practice in Auburn, Malzahn felt confident the Tigers were as sharp as they could be.

“They had two really good weeks of practice (and) I thought was very important,” he said. “I feel good about where we're at right now. We just need to have another good week of practice before we play.”

Still, even as Malzahn has downplayed his own role in the Tigers’ turnaround season, others were quick to lavish praise on the first-year coach.

“He came in and he really focused on the players and what we had to bring to the table,” senior defensive end Dee Ford said. “He really did a great job of letting us know that it had to come from the players. It had to be a player-driven team, and we really had to buckle down and work hard. It was going to be hard. He told us that the entire year it was going to be very hard.”

But Auburn has persevered to get to this point: with a chance to win another BCS championship provided it can topple top-ranked Florida State. Once more, the Tigers will enter a matchup as the underdog. By this point, though, it’s a role they’ve grown accustomed to, and in a way, relish.

Ford can speak to it; in player meetings, he and his fellow seniors ask teammates what they want.

Each time, they reply with the same answer: The Tigers want to prove the world wrong.

“We want to fight to the end. That's just what we do — we just come in and we fight,” Ford said. “We're going to play every play just like the Bama game. We're going to play every play like it's our last. We really mean that. It's really helped us get to where we are now.”

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