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‘On a mission’: Auburn staying grounded during preparations for second half of the season

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn on the sidelines at Mississippi State Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 in Starkville, Miss.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn on the sidelines at Mississippi State Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 in Starkville, Miss. AP

Auburn isn’t declaring mission accomplished yet.

Players went into the bye week feeling good about their current three-game win streak, which includes back-to-back victories over SEC opponents.

It’s the first time the Tigers accomplished either feat in more than two years.

The modest run of success has turned the page on a 2-10 run in the conference, but players who battled through the recent adversity don’t want to let the momentum slip away.

“The leadership will definitely keep everybody grounded,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “They're on a mission. They really helped us through the tough times. There were no chinks in our armor, and it really starts with our leaders. They've got a good pulse for our team. Our younger guys really listen to them.”

While Malzahn rarely singles out individual leaders, Montravius Adams, Alex Kozan and Tre’ Williams all talked this week about keeping everyone on the same page.

“Coach Malzahn brought us in a little while ago and we, as leadership on our team, we talked about how the season was going so far,” Adams said. “He brought us in, we talked about a lot of different stuff and ever since then, we've been on the right path. All he wants us to do is keep the player's heads level so we can keep improving. I feel like if we keep on improving each week we'll take that next step.”

The next step will be beating an Arkansas team that is coming off an emotional fourth quarter comeback win over Ole Miss.

Auburn is preparing for a close game like the two programs played last year in Fayetteville where the Razorbacks won a 54-46 thriller in four overtimes.

The Tigers recent performance in close games — they have a 2-5 record in their last seven one-possession games — isn’t lost on players.

“During the summer, Arkansas is definitely one of the games we focused on as a team,” Kozan said. “A lot of those games actually — Georgia, Ole Miss — all those games we lost kind of by one score. Mississippi State too. That was one of our messages during the summer finish games like that and find a way to put ourselves the edge and win those games.”

It’s why Malzahn doesn’t want to see anyone pat themselves on the back this week.

While the coach happily acknowledges his team has come a long way from a week one defeat to Clemson, he noted how Auburn never quite recovered from last year’s loss to Arkansas.

“There’s no doubt (it was a tipping point),” Malzahn said of last year’s game. “The schedule was uphill after that game.”

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