It was just a few weeks ago that Auburn head coach, Gus Malzahn, was firmly entrenched on the so-called “coaching hot seat” after a 27-23 loss to LSU. After two 8-5 seasons, sandwiched another 7-6 campaign, Auburn fans had just about had enough. Then, Malzahn found his roots and the Tigers beat the No. 1 team in the nation, Georgia, last week.
It was not so much that the Tigers won, but how they did it. Auburn fans remember Malzahn’s first season when he took his up-tempo, high-powered offense all the way to the BCS National Championship Game. Visions of Nick Marshall at quarterback and Tre Mason at running back filled Tigers fans, who longed for another shot at a national title, with nostalgia. They might get that shot this season.
Last Saturday reminded Auburn fans of that 2013 squad. The pace was frantic and was part of the reason Malzahn’s offense was so successful. For some reason, Malzahn and Auburn got away from the up-tempo offensive style that he has been synonymous with from day one. After the Tigers blew a 20-point lead at LSU and kept trying to run the ball into LSU’s eight-man fronts, Malzahn went back to what brought him to major college football.
The week after the LSU loss, Malzahn and offensive coordinator, Chip Lindsey, made a concerted effort to speed things up against Arkansas. It worked. Auburn piled up 629 yards of total offense and beat the Razorbacks 52-20. More of the same happened the next week in a 42-27 win over Texas A&M. Auburn had 496 total yards as quarterback, Jarrett Stidham, tossed four touchdown passes.
The Tigers’ offense was a model of up-tempo efficiency against Georgia, gaining 488 total yards. 237 of those yards came on the ground, in a relatively easy 40-17 victory. Auburn running back, Kerryon Johnson, who brings back memories of Mason, ran 32 times for 167 yards against a Bulldogs defense that was considered one of the best in the nation. While the Auburn offense was busy finding itself, the Tigers defense had been playing lights out. Against Georgia, Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s unit allowed just 230 total yards.
With the offense back in gear, Malzahn and Auburn can set its sights on a much larger prize – the College Football Playoff. In the most recent rankings, released this Tuesday night, Auburn checked in at No. 6. The Tigers need some help to get into the playoff, but have to take care of their own business first. It starts with a non-conference matchup with Louisiana-Monroe on November 18. Then comes the big one: the annual Iron Bowl. The rivalry game with No. 1 Alabama is set for November 25.
The last time Auburn faced Alabama with so much on the line was during that 2013 season. The famous “Kick Six” field goal return by Chris Davis gave Auburn a 34-28 win and the SEC West Division title. Auburn went on to win the SEC title and play for a National Championship. The same scenario could unfold again all thanks to Malzahn and a return to what he knows best.