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Michael Niziolek: Auburn presenting a united front going into pivotal matchup with LSU

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Cassanova McKinzy (8) celebrates a stop. Jacksonville State vs Auburn in Auburn, Ala. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics
Cassanova McKinzy (8) celebrates a stop. Jacksonville State vs Auburn in Auburn, Ala. on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics

The concern and criticism surrounding Auburn’s lackluster 2-0 start isn’t seeping into the Tigers’ locker room.

There were no cracks showing in the team’s confidence as coaches and players answered questions this week about the squad’s struggles in wins over Jacksonville State, and Louisville.

“We know we haven’t played up to our standard, but we’re still 2-0 and we haven’t played as good as we want to play, so we know we can only go up from here,” Auburn senior wide receiver Melvin Ray said. “That’s what we plan on doing.”

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn knows the “pulse” of his team, and said with certainty the group remains upbeat.

“This is a close group,” Malzahn said. “They handled that adversity well on the sidelines with the players and the coaches. That was the positive takeaway.”

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee went one step further. As mistakes piled up Saturday with the team down 20-13 to Jacksonville State, he didn’t see anyone looking for teammates to blame.

Auburn players rallied around each other to pull off an emotional 27-20 comeback in overtime.

“You didn’t have a lot of guys pointing fingers at others, you didn’t have guys getting in arguments, you didn’t have guys quitting and getting down,” Lashlee said. “They kept fighting. Offense, defense and special teams. Everybody in one of those phases at some point made a play in the game to help us win. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”

Lashlee didn’t shy away from the issues facing the offense -- “there is a lot of things to fix” -- but said the way the team handled “tough pressure” situations isn’t an element of football that’s easy to coach.

“What we found out about our team is they’re not going quit,” Lashlee said. “They’re tight. And now we know how they’re going to respond in those scenarios because we’re going to have one just about every week in our league usually. That is something you can build on.”

Auburn dropping from No. 6 in the polls all the way down to No. 18 earned the Tigers considerable attention early in the week, as did safety Rudy Ford inadvertently giving LSU some bulletin board material, but none of that has shifted the team’s concentration on their week three opponent.

“We knew there's going to be some growing pains when you're going through this,” Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said. “Been through it before. We've just got to continue to pay attention to detail, focus on what we need to do to be successful, and that's what this football team is doing.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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