War Eagle Extra

Ryan Black commentary: Saturday's game all about Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn can name its score Saturday. And it will. But one thing is certain: The Tigers will keep it respectable.

Considering Samford is coached by Auburn legend Pat Sullivan — and given how much respect Gus Malzahn has for the former Heisman Trophy winner — you won't see Auburn "running up the score," as the well-known football-centric phrase goes.

None of this is meant as any disrespect toward the Bulldogs. They are a solid FCS team, entering Saturday with a 7-3 overall record and a 5-2 mark in Southern Conference play.

That being said ... they are an FCS school. And in their only other matchup against an FBS foe this season, they were dismissed by Texas Christian 48-14 on Aug. 30.

But the key number here has six figures; as in, the $425,000 Auburn is paying Samford to come to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

You don't pay that kind of money expecting a competitive contest. You shell out that dough for an easy, the-game-is-over-at-halftime-or-maybe-earlier victory.

Keeping all that in mind, then, Saturday is about Auburn and Auburn only. Of course, irrespective of each team's record to this point, that would have always been the case.

But there is a bit more intrigue about Auburn now compared to, say, two weeks ago. No longer are the Tigers in thick of the national championship chase. After last week's loss to Georgia (coupled with Alabama's victory against Mississippi State), Auburn isn't even in the hunt for the Western Division title anymore.

This is a team whose sole objective this season was to be "13 seconds better" to avenge last year's BCS championship game defeat.

With that no longer an option, their new situation has been tough to accept.

"It's dreadful because that's what our whole goal was this year — to get back being SEC champions and having a shot at the national championship," said Nick Marshall, Auburn's starting quarterback. "But it didn't fall our way this year."

When asked how long it will take to get refocused, Marshall wasn't sure.

"It'll be hard to get over but it's something you have to get over," he said. "You just can't dwell on it. We've just got to focus on the next game."

Beyond the elimination from year's initial four-team playoff, Auburn is dealing with adversity in another way: a losing streak. For the first time since Malzahn became coach, the Tigers have tasted defeat in back-to-back games.

In a way, that may be one of Malzahn's most underrated achievements. In the SEC — widely regarded as the nation's toughest league — it took 24 games before he lost consecutive outings.

And this was with a team that went 3-9 the year before he assumed control of the program.

"We win this week and that's 20 wins in two seasons after going 3-9, I think that's a huge accomplishment," senior tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "I don't think that's been done in the history of college football. We're looking at this one week at a time. Going forward, we're looking for three more wins."

The challenge only gets more daunting after Saturday. Beating Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium — or at any venue, for that matter — isn't easy. And until the regular season concludes, Auburn won't know the identity of its bowl opponent.

Malzahn will only worry about those things when the time comes.

As always, his feet are firmly planted in the present.

"We need to play well, we need to get that edge and we're going to do that," he responded when asked what he's looking to get out of Saturday.

Notice he didn't say a win — though it should go without saying.

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