Auburn coach Gus Malzahn took a moment during his press conference Tuesday afternoon to reflect on the changing culture of the team’s defense under coach Will Muschamp.
The highly sought after defensive coordinator wasn’t able to provide the immediate turnaround fans hoped for, but in recent weeks the Tigers are finally living up to the ‘fast-physical motto’ Muschamp laid out when he arrived.
“It's really been good to watch really get this defense and it's starting to become what he wants it to be,” Malzahn said. “He's still going to recruit and we'll improve, but you can see the improvement. They're playing extremely hard.”
With a rare nod to the future, Malzahn smiled as he said the “best is yet to come,” but the not-so-subtle improvements might not be enough to stop the Tide-al wave coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday for a simple reason — Auburn’s defense will have no room for error.
If the Tigers give up a 70-plus yard on the first play like they did against Idaho it would likely signal the beginning of the end in the Iron Bowl thanks to an offense that’s a mere shadow of its former self.
It’s been a long fall for a group that just last year had a chance to score 60-plus points against Alabama in a game Malzahn lamented having to settle for “a whole lot of field goals” in the red zone.
On Saturday, Auburn will be desperate to create any red zone chances at all.
“We have a new team,” Malzahn said without a hint of irony. “They have a new team. It is a new year.”
This year’s Tigers team simply isn’t capable of playing from behind against SEC-level competition or to get into a shootout. The only time they managed to win a game in which they trailed in the second half was against FCS opponent Jacksonville State.
The few times Auburn’s offense has managed to breakout this season all came with an asterisk.
It scored a season-high 56 points at the expense of an Idaho team that has one of the worst defenses in the country. The Tigers scored 46 points against Arkansas, but needed four overtimes to do it.
Alabama has humbled far better offenses than the one it will see in its regular season finale.
The pressure will be on Auburn’s own defense to be flawless.
While the group isn’t capable of perfection just yet, the fiery Muschamp won’t let the Tigers go down without a fight.
“There's no doubt it's a huge game,” Muschamp said. “It's the greatest rivalry in college football when you talk in terms of the Iron Bowl and growing up in the South and understanding what this game means, especially in the state of Alabama.”