Watching Auburn “re-center” itself at halftime down 24-20 to Ole Miss brought back memories of the challenge Auburn coach Gus Malzahn laid down for his team more than a year ago.
“When you go through a little adversity, my experience is that championship teams roll up their sleeves and leaders emerge, and that’s what we expect our guys to do,” Malzahn said.
Malzahn’s words came on the heels of his team’s humiliating loss to LSU in Baton Rouge.
While the 2015 Tigers didn’t quit on Malzahn, they never “emerged” in the way he was calling for. The team lost four more one-possession games to finish the season a disappointing 7-6.
This year’s Auburn squad has found that missing ingredient, showing a championship fortitude time and time again this season.
Saturday’s victory was just the latest example of it. Auburn found itself in a dog fight at Oxford after 12 straight quarters of uncompetitive football.
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly wasn’t going to stop attacking Auburn’s secondary until they were back on the bus.
The beleaguered group gave up the third most passing yards in program history, but found a way to say enough is enough. They made key third-down stops down the stretch and came up with an interception in the fourth quarter to close out the win.
Sean White, who spent most of October in the same position as Halloween decorations waiting to be pulled out of storage, came through as well.
No play exemplified the sophomore’s competitive spirit more than his 16-yard scramble for a first down late in the third quarter. White sacrificed his body — as he often does — to make sure he moved the chains on the third-and-13.
“A lot of times it’s how you win,” Malzahn said during his weekly Tiger Talk radio show.
Auburn showed a similar kind of resiliency when its entire season was on the line earlier this year hosting LSU. A third loss would have sent the program back to the SEC West’s cellar and fueled concerns about Malzahn’s job status.
The offense couldn’t find the end zone, but the team still found a way to scrap together an 18-13 victory.
“They’ve responded every time,” Malzahn said of his team Thursday night.
The win didn’t automatically erase all of Auburn’s issues as athletic director Jay Jacobs pointed out Tuesday night at the Montgomery Quarterback club, but Jacobs knew the team was back on the right path when the players came together in the days that followed.
“Your defense is playing so well and your offense isn’t scoring your team can get divided …” Jacobs said. “That didn’t happen, but that doesn’t just happen. You have to build a culture like that and over the last four years that’s what Gus has done.”