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.
Don’t count Malzahn among that group.
“Auburn is a great place. Auburn is a place that expects to win championships,” he said following Wednesday night’s 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 Auburn’s program.
“I’m 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. It’s been a lot of fun and a blessing to coach this team. We’re playing for the SEC Championship, so it’s been a good year.”
To make it better, Auburn will have to beat Missouri on Saturday. That’s why he was pleased the team has had such a good week of practice.
The players have followed Malzahn’s 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. We’re playing for a chance to win the SEC Championship, so they’ve 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 — can’t 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 didn’t commit a turnover.
“We can’t have any turnovers,” Malzahn said. “They’re 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.”