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Memory of one that got away drives Auburn coaches, players

May 2, 2014

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and players prepare to take the field in the BCS Championship Game (Todd Van Emst photo)

By Phillip Marshall

AUBURN, Ala. - It’s been almost four months since that night at the Rose Bowl. And not a day goes by without Gus Malzahn thinking about it.

For Malzahn, his assistants and his players, the drive to go back and finish the job, to get rid of the foul taste of a loss they are convinced should have been a victory, has grown stronger by the day.

Against Florida State in the BCS Championship Game, one more stop was all Auburn needed to win a national championship in Malzahn’s first season as head coach. But a short pass became a long gainer, a penalty moved to ball the 2-yard line, Jameis Winston lofted a pass and Auburn lost the lead and the game with 13 seconds left.

“You have to keep everything in perspective,” Malzahn says. “You have your disappointment, but at the same time your program is back where it should be and there is a lot of momentum. You kind of use that to help motivate.

“We are extremely motivated now. That’s behind us. We are looking forward, and the future is bright. At least the foundation is set.”

For Malzahn, no losses go down easily. But losing a championship game is the hardest of all. As a high school coach in Arkansas, Malzahn won three state championships. But he lost twice in the championship game, and those losses are with him still today.

The pain and disappointment never go away, but Malzahn says he’s learned from each of those losses.

“As a coach, the games I remember from far back are the games I lost,” Malzahn says. “I don’t remember a lot of the wins. Even high school championships - a couple of them - I think about probably on a weekly basis. This is one that will take a long time to get over.”

The players who were there last January talk about it still. They remember plays that could have been made that weren’t, near misses when the game was there to be won. Junior linebacker Cassanova McKinzy says he doesn’t want to forget.

“I don’t want to get rid of it until I actually win one,” McKinzy says. “It’s going to always going to be on my mind when I’m on the field, thinking back to those 13 seconds when we almost won the whole thing. We have to bring it back and win the whole thing. I really believe we are going to be back in that situation.”

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee believed in the second quarter, when Auburn led 21-3, that Florida State was on the verge of being taken out. But a fake punt set up a touchdown and the Seminoles found their way back.

“We were very much in control,” Lashlee says. “We just never put the game away. If you don’t put a good team away, you are going to lose. It’s always frustrating to lose, but it’s especially frustrating to lose when you feel you are the better team.

“At the same time, we won some games last year when maybe we weren’t the better team. Hopefully, our guys have learned from that situation so that, when we get in that situation again, we’ll be able to close it out.”

Auburn opens its season on Aug. 30 against Arkansas at Jordan-Hare Stadium.  That’s when the serious business of trying to go back to the big show will officially begin. Senior H-back Brandon Fulse says he and his teammates believe that is their destiny.

“Coach Malzahn put it in our minds that it’s a new day and he’s going to do whatever it takes for us to be a championship team,” Fulse says. “We proved we can be. This year we have to prove it again and go one step further.”


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:




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