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‘Bunch of winners’: Auburn’s late-season slide won’t define 2016

Auburn takes to the field during pre-game ceremonies before the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma in New Orleans.
Auburn takes to the field during pre-game ceremonies before the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma in New Orleans. AP Photo

Auburn players didn’t need anyone to tell them their season was on the brink following a 29-16 loss to Texas A&M.

The loss dropped the Tigers to 1-2 with a matchup against a talented LSU team looming.

“Everybody kind of saw it early in the season,” Auburn defensive back Josh Holsey said. “We had a lot of team meetings by ourselves without the coaches. And we kind of just told each other that we’re going to keep fighting.”

Holsey’s time on the Plains is over, but the veteran defender doesn’t see his now former teammates abandoning that attitude following a disappointing 35-19 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

“I wouldn’t trade this team for the world,” Holsey said. “If I had to do it again, I would definitely do it again with those guys, because there’s a bunch of winners in that locker room. And I’m sure you will see that next year.”

Auburn suffered its fair share of setbacks this season, but coaches and players kept an optimistic outlook at every turn.

The Tigers rebounded from a slow start, winning six straight, but they lost to Georgia and Alabama for a third straight year. The last time Auburn had simultaneous three-game losing streaks to both SEC rivals was in the late 1960s.

A lopsided defeat in the Sugar Bowl dropped coach Gus Malzahn to 1-3 in bowl games. The coach’s lone postseason win came in last year’s Birmingham Bowl.

Malzahn glossed over this year’s failures when asked to sum up the season. The fourth-year coach’s main takeaway focused on Auburn exceeding preseason expectations to make a New Year’s Six bowl game.

“I’ve got a locker room full of disappointed players, but I think we were picked last or next to last in the SEC,” Malzahn said after the Sugar Bowl. “We played a very tough schedule. We had some tough injuries. I guess probably the best way (to sum it up) is we overcame a lot of obstacles to get here.”

Running back Kerryon Johnson doesn’t think every locker room would have battled through the adversity.

“Obviously, it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, but I tell you that no one on our team is a quitter, which I don’t think you can say about a ton of teams,” Johnson said. “We fought through. Everybody was together.”

A Sugar Bowl loss to did little to dampen the team’s overall confidence about next season.

“They have got a bright bunch in that locker room, and they’re going to be great,” Holsey said. “They have got a lot of leaders coming back. They’ve got a lot of guys coming back. The future is going to be bright for us.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra