War Eagle Extra

Auburn heads to New Orleans done with the ‘heavy lifting’ for Sugar Bowl

Auburn leaves for New Orleans Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016 for its game in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma.
Auburn leaves for New Orleans Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016 for its game in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn is packing its bags for the Big Easy.

The Tigers load up the bus Tuesday for the program’s sixth Sugar Bowl appearance. The team will spend the week in New Orleans practicing on site at Tulane Yulman Stadium and participating in a series of events scheduled by bowl organizers including a local hospital visit and pep rally.

Auburn is coming off a short Christmas break after two weeks of “extremely focused” bowl practices. The coaching staff installed much of the game plan for Oklahoma during the eight practices on campus.

“I think the big thing is before you leave and go off for Christmas you really need everything set,” Malzahn said. “All you do when you get to the bowl site is really fine-tune everything. That’s really was our plan last year and it will be very similar this year. We’ll have four good practices once we get to the bowl site but the main preparation as far as the coaching aspect and the scheming aspect is put to bed before you leave.”

Auburn players gave the early portion of bowl prep rave reviews.

“We've been having a lot of energy,” Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson said. “I think the break we had after the last game has really gotten us reenergized and refocused, and we've executed at a high level.”

Auburn expects the focused, high-energy practice sessions to continue this week in New Orleans.

“It is the biggest bowl we can go to besides the playoff,” Auburn offensive lineman Austin Golson said. “Anytime you play in a New Year’s Six bowl it’s like being one of the top teams in the country, which is really special. I believe it’s different and you have to take a different approach because it means a lot more.”

Auburn benefited from getting many of the players who were injured at the end of the regular season — quarterback Sean White (shoulder), running back Kamryn Pettway (quad) and defensive back Josh Holsey (ankle) — fully participating in practice again.

Johnson, who spent the second half of the season dealing with an ankle injury, said having everyone at 100 percent made a different on the practice field.

“It almost feels like a new team,” Johnson said. “We were kind of drained out, and now it's like we have new guys in there really.”

Malzahn said the team made it through the first six practices without any injury setbacks. The only player expected to miss the game is senior Devaroe Lawrence, who had season-ending surgery on an undisclosed injury.

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra