Nov. 12, 2013
Corey Grant is off and running last Saturday against Tennessee (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn football players can feel it at every turn. A year after the worst collapse in 60 years, their 9-1 record has lifted spirits on the field, on campus, in the community.
Junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright says life has been more enjoyable for everyone connected with Auburn’s program and for those who watch from afar.
“The teachers’ attitudes are better. The bus drivers’ attitudes are better,” Wright said Tuesday with a smile. “I guess what I’m trying to get at is that everybody’s attitude is better. There’s not much bad that can come from winning. It’s a new day here. We’re blessed to be at this point. We just can’t wait for the next opportunity.”
The next opportunity for the No. 7 Tigers (9-1, 5-1) comes Saturday against No. 25 Georgia (6-3, 4-2) at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff time on CBS is set for 2:30 p.m.
“Last year, you can put whatever name you want on it, but I knew we had talent,” Wright said. “It was just a matter (this year) of whether guys were going to buy into the coaches. The confidence is through the roof on this team this year.”
The players, Malzahn says, deserve the credit.
“It’s all about our players coming together, putting the past behind them and becoming close and I think developing relationships with each other and developing relationships with coaches. I think that is the start of it.”
With Georgia and No. 1 Alabama remaining in the regular season, the Tigers control their own destiny in the race for the Southeastern Conference championship. They remain in the conversation for more than that.
It all started, players say, when Gus Malzahn took over as head coach and insisted his players focus on the day at hand. Junior running back Corey Grant acknowledges that’s not easy as the stakes get higher and the opportunities greater.
“We really do focus one game, one practice at a time,” Grant said. “Coach always talks about that and guys have bought into that. We just try to get better day by day. Probably, individually you think about it. Collectively, as a team, we haven’t.”
Georgia, Wright says, requires all the focus he and his teammates can muster.
“This game is real important,” Wright said. “It’s the next game. We’ve been doing this one game at a time mentality since Week 1. Coach put a big emphasis on it. The players have bought into it. It’s the Deep South’s oldest rivalry.
“From a personal standpoint, I have yet to beat Georgia. There are a lot of guys who have yet to beat Georgia. Guys are more focused and locked in. I praise the guys for really locking in and getting us to the point where we can finally get here. All that aside, it’s Week 11. Guys have showed we will persevere. There’s no stopping now.”
For Grant, the difference from a year ago is striking. After transferring from Alabama, sitting out a year and having a strong spring, he was the forgotten running back. He got just nine carries, all of them against New Mexico State and Alabama A&M.
This season, he has 504 yards on 50 carries, an average of more than 10 yards per carry. He has run for four touchdowns. He returned the second-half kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in last Saturday’s 55-23 blowout at Tennessee.
“It’s rewarding after having done all the hard work and just sitting around watching everybody else do their thing,” Grant said. “Finally this year having my chance and doing what I’ve done is a great feeling.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: