War Eagle Extra

Survival of the fittest: Auburn taking recent success in stride

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn yells at defensive lineman Andrew Williams at the end of the first quarter against Arkansas Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn yells at defensive lineman Andrew Williams at the end of the first quarter against Arkansas Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Coach Gus Malzahn isn’t saying I told you so.

After a 1-2 start, Malzahn was one of the few voices to predict Auburn’s recent resurgence.

“We are close — as a matter of fact we are really close — to being a good team and we are going to get this thing turned around,” Malzahn said in the days leading up to the program’s showdown against LSU and the start of a four-game win streak.

Auburn has outscored its last three opponents 157-24, which includes a pair of lopsided wins over SEC West rivals Mississippi State and Arkansas. The success has propelled the Tigers to No. 15 in the most recent AP rankings.

Malzahn’s might have nailed his prediction, but he isn’t doing any victory laps.

“In our league it doesn’t matter, anybody can beat anybody,” Malzahn said. “It’s a grind. It’s a survival of the fittest. Everybody is talented so you have to be tough, you have to be mentally tough in your staff and your players. It takes all of that.”

It’s the same message he’s delivering to his players this week as his team prepares for Ole Miss.

“We got to keep improving,” Malzahn said. “We haven’t arrived. That’s our mindset.”

Malzahn doesn’t have to look very far in the rear view mirror for an example of how quickly triumph can turn to tragedy.

When Auburn won a thrilling matchup of one-loss teams two years ago in Oxford, the Tigers put themselves in the picture for a berth in the first ever college football playoff.

Those dreams lasted a week.

Auburn lost three of four to end the regular season before losing in the Outback Bowl to Wisconsin.

It’s why Malzahn is telling his players to be wary of a 3-4 Ole Miss team, a squad reeling from back-to-back losses for the first time in two years.

“You’re talking about an Ole Miss team that is very talented,” Malzahn said. “I told our guys ‘don’t let that record deceive you’ because that’s one of the top groups in our league.”

Malzahn likes the growing confidence Auburn is playing with, but he doesn’t want anyone to lose sight of the big picture.

“You got to be confident,” Malzahn said. “You got to keep working. You got to keep the same mentality each week to keep improving. You can’t pat yourself on the back in this league.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra

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