AUBURN, Ala. — When Auburn arrived at the Columbus Airport last Saturday following its 45-41 road victory over Texas A&M, cheering fans greeted them.
The Tigers’ players and coaching staff celebrated.
When Auburn arrived back at its athletic complex later that same night, more adoring supporters met them. The Tigers’ players and coaches took a chance to revel in the win once more.
Then the clock struck midnight. It was Sunday, and the time for rejoicing was over.
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Those were Gus Malzahn’s marching orders.
“I told our players and coaches they worked hard, let's enjoy it,” Auburn’s head coach said. “Once Sunday got here, that's behind us. (That means) we've got to get back to doing what got us here — working hard. Taking it one day at a time, one game, one practice at a time. We really haven't gotten too much into (the Texas A&M win) after Saturday night.”
Since then, the sole focus has been on Florida Atlantic. But even Malzahn admitted a new obstacle is now in front of the Tigers: playing with increased expectations. Following their win last week, the Tigers rocketed up to No. 11 in the most recent Associated Press poll and gave them the same spot in the first edition of the BCS Standings.
Then again, Malzahn didn’t believe last week’s win separated Auburn from other teams coming off noteworthy victories themselves.
“I think that's a challenge of any team in college football,” he said. “You see it every week. Teams are on a high and they kind of lose their momentum. That's our challenge. We've got to keep moving forward.”
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee acknowledged that the Tigers have gone from being the “hunter” to the “hunted,” with the No. 11 ranking putting a large target on their backs — which will only grow if they continue to move farther up the polls. Lashlee was pleased with what he has seen thus far, though. There hasn’t been any talk that extends past this Saturday and adding another victory to the ledger.
“We've got to get win No. 7 and if you don't do that, nothing else matters,” Lashlee said. “That is a big challenge — to see how mature we are. I feel like our guys have responded when we've asked them to respond to things so far this year and so we're worried about one thing this week. Who cares where we're ranked?”
Carl Pelini shared Lashlee’s sentiments on Auburn’s ranking. Florida Atlantic’s coach wasn’t swayed by the Tigers’ victory over the Aggies; he already knew the quality of this weekend's opponent, anyway. Last Saturday only served as further affirmation.
Echoing the thoughts of the Auburn's coaching staff, Pelini just wants his team to worry about the things it can control this weekend.
“I just think we need to go up there and play our best and not worry about where Auburn is ranked or what the crowd is going to be like or any of that,” he said. “We just need to go up there and play our game. Let it all hang out and we'll be just fine.”
The Owls’ showing in previous outings against high-level Division I foes tells a different story, as it has been far from smooth sailing for the Boca Raton, Fla.-based school. Florida Atlantic played Miami — No. 7 in the BCS Standings — in its season opener and were wiped away by the Hurricanes, giving up more than 300 yards rushing (and 500-plus yards of total offense) in a 34-6 defeat. Last season, the Owls played both of the SEC Championship Game participants in Georgia and Alabama — in back-to-back weeks, no less — and lost by a combined score of 96-27.
Pelini brushed history aside, believing the team he will bring into Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday is well-equipped enough to give the hosts a hard-fought game.
“We are in a different place right now. We are better,” he said. “I think we were still trying to teach our players the basic fundamentals of our offense and defense a year ago (versus Georgia and Alabama). That’s why (it) was scary playing the teams at that level. We are just more comfortable with who we are.”
Reese Dismukes wasn’t satisfied with where the Tigers are, either — the minute complacency sets in, a team starts to lose its edge. Repeating the same mantra as his coaches, Dismukes said he hasn’t thought about anything this week other than the Owls. After all, looking ahead can only lead to bad things.
Besides, Dismukes pointed out, if the Tigers take care of business for the remainder of the season, they have nothing to worry about.
“You win football games,” he said, “then everything will fall into line.”