By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - A sublime achievement. A supreme opportunity.
And a quick turnaround between the two.
After winning the SEC West by knocking off the No. 1 team for the second time in three weeks, Auburn plays Georgia Saturday in the SEC Championship Game at 3 p.m. CT in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
"I feel great about it," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. "When we got in here Sunday, team meeting, it was `flip the page.' That was over with. We'll think about how fun that was after the season."
Beating Alabama 26-14 in the Iron Bowl propelled Auburn to within one more win of the SEC championship.
"They've got the goal," Malzahn said. "They put it up there the very first day of fall camp: `We want to win the SEC championship.' They weren't shy about it, trying to hide it from outside people. Now, it's right in front of them.
"We've got a mature team. They're not going to be distracted I'll tell you that. We're playing a big-time team. You've got to play them twice. We've got to play our best football. Very few teams can do that toward the end. We've got to play better than we did Saturday. That's what's on their mind, and that's our challenge."
Malzahn dismissed the notion of any lingering Iron Bowl celebratory carryover diminishing Auburn's preparation.
"We've got a mature bunch, a hungry bunch, I don't think that will happen," he said. "We've finally gotten to this point. Sunday when we went out to practice, it was great energy. They're excited. It's finally here. We won't have any kind of emotional letdown in this type of game."
Defeating the top-ranked team twice gives Auburn the confidence that comes from being battle-tested, Malzahn said.
"The experience of how you got to this point, it helps you, I think, from the standpoint of you know a lot about how your team is going to react in certain situations," he said. "It is going to be a dogfight Saturday, there is no doubt. There is going to be adversity and we have to overcome it.
"I like where we are at and how we have gotten here. A lot of times, it is how you get to where you are at that can help you move forward, and we have experienced just a little bit of everything this year if you really look at it. Hopefully that will help on Saturday."
Georgia leads the SEC in rushing, averaging 265.7 yards per game, with Nick Chubb (91.5) and Sony Michel (82.1) each ranking in the top 10. In Auburn's 40-17 win over Georgia on Nov. 11, the Tigers held the Bulldogs' duo to 48 yards on 20 carries.
"They are one of the top rushing teams in college football, if not the best," Malzahn said. "You have to stop the run. Their running backs are phenomenal, and I think everyone knows that. When you do that, you worry about the passing game and everything that goes with it, and the quarterback has more experience than he did when he played us."
Auburn will play its first game in Atlanta's new stadium, the same venue that will host the College Football Playoff Championship Game on Jan. 8.
"It is the championship game and it is going to be loud," Malzahn said. "We are going to have a good crowd as well as Georgia, so I am not worried about that."
In a season of Southeastern Conference turmoil, featuring coaching changes at six schools, including a majority of SEC West members, Auburn is enjoying stability five seasons into the Malzahn era.
"I felt like coming into this year that we finally had some quality depth through recruiting," he said. "We had a lot of the pieces of the puzzle. We are in a really good spot. The future is very bright. We have the ability to sustain it. Now we have to do it, but we are a lot more stable right now than any other time that I have been at Auburn."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer