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Gus Malzahn says improving Auburn looks for big finish
Oct. 28, 2014

Avery Young celebrates Auburn's latest win, and will be looking for more in the second half

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala.  Gus Malzahn's offenses usually pick up steam in the second half of football seasons, and that's a good thing, because Auburn's end-of-the-season rush toward the new playoffs is a tough road, indeed.

Three of No. 4 Auburn's final five games are against teams ranked in the Top 7 in the AP poll, and all are on the road, and it starts with Saturday's 6 p.m. game at No. 7 Ole Miss. 

Improving to that end is a necessity, Malzahn said Tuesday.

"That has been the plan all year, from Day One," Malzahn said. "We are going to need to have that happen because we are playing the meat of our schedule with three Top 10 teams on the road. I don't know another team in the country that is doing that. That's the plan and our guys did a great job of that last year. I feel like we are improving in areas."

Auburn closed out last seaosn playing four teams ranked in the Top 25. Despite the upgrade in opponents, including facing the No. 1, No. 5 and No. 1 teams in successive games, the offense put up better numbers in the second half of the 14-game season. The Tigers scored 302 points in the final seven games, as opposed to 251 in the first seven. Auburn also rushed for 395 more yards and had 98 more yards of total offense.

If last Saturday's 42-35 win over South Carolina is any indication, the Tigers may be primed for another run-oriented run. The Tigers rushed for 395 yards against the Gamecocks. 

And, now, Auburn plays on.

"It's the players really buying into finding a way to not lose sight of the little things, to figure out a way go one week at a time, to not look ahead and to not get mentally tired. That's a big factor," Malzahn said "In college football it is such a grind mentally with everything that goes with it. Special teams have a way to not get tired mentally."

The college football world was ready to turn Tuesday night to the first rankings for the new four-team playoffs. Auburn was ranked third. Malzahn said he's not concerned with that, not with so much of the season still remaining.
Auburn is 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC. Ole Miss is 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the league. There's not much room for error, for either team, in the race to the playoffs. But Malzahn said the playoffs won't be part of his equation Saturday.

"We've got to go there and we've got to play well to win. That's the only thing on our mind," he said. "We aren't looking ahead to this and that. We are going to Ole Miss and we are trying to win the game."

Malzahn also said…

• On Ole Miss' defense: "It's the best defense that Ole Miss has had, at least that I've gone against. I went against some pretty good ones when I was coordinator here before. They're extremely fast and very good up front. They've got speed everywhere and I think they're good tacklers. This is one of the better defenses in the entire country."

• On Auburn's pass rush: "We definitely need to improve in that. Our coaches are still working on that. At times this year, we've had a good pass rush and other times we haven't. That's going to be a big factor with these next five games."

• On Auburn graduate assistant Ryan Aplin, who was on Ole Miss' coaching staff last year and played for Malzahn at Arkansas State: "He and Coach Lashlee have that quarterback-coach relationship. He understands what we do just like Kodi Burns did. He's done a really good job for us and he understands how we operate. There's a lot of pressure on that young man on Saturday doing the signals and everything that goes with that, just like there was on Kodi Burns."

• On if leading rusher Cameron Artis-Payne may get even more carries: "You never know how the season unfolds. He's capable. If we want to give him the ball 40 times, he's a tough guy that we feel like he could do that. We'll see." Last seen, Artis-Payne rushed for 167 yards on 25 carries against South Carolina, earning compliments from Malzahn.

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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