By Jeff Shearer
ATLANTA - Ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff poll after defeating the top-ranked team twice in November, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn arrived here Friday, knowing a victory in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game puts the Tigers in the final four.
“The stakes are so high and this is for the Championship,” Malzahn said. “Our guys, they've had a very good week of practice. It's kind of been business as usual as far as our preparation up to this point, and really that's the way it needs to be.”
Auburn plays its first game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday at 3 p.m. CT in a rematch with Georgia, a team the Tigers beat 40-17 three weeks ago at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“There's not a whole lot of teams in college football playing their best football right now, and I really like the way that we got here,” said Malzahn of Auburn’s five-game win streak. “The last couple of weeks, we've been peaking. Now, the hard part is to continue to do that because you've got to do that every single week from here on out because you're playing great opponents, like Georgia. But that's our challenge.”
“[Coach Lindsey] was hired to bring balance,” Malzahn said. “He's done exactly that. I think we're one of the most balanced teams in our league. Really, that's been a big key, and the better team that you play or the more talented defense you play, the more balanced you have to be to be successful.”
Stidham, the SEC’s completion percentage leader (68.5 percent), contributed to that balance by providing a vertical passing game.
“He's a great competitor, very tough on himself,” Malzahn said. “You've seen him get more and more comfortable each week. He's been protecting the football. He's been using his legs more, which has opened up things for us in our offense. He's playing at a high level right now.”
Malzahn is not surprised that his team won the SEC West. He saw it coming. Before the 2016 season, he said, "I really believe these next three or four years are fixing to be our best years we've had."
Before this season, Malzahn reaffirmed that sentiment. "I feel more confident about that statement now than I did then,” he said in May.
On Friday, in the stadium that will host the national championship game five weeks from now, Malzahn reflected on his program’s stability.
“We've had five top ten recruiting classes in a row,” Malzahn said. “We've got to this point, and we're just in a lot more stable position. We're in a position that I think we can sustain this type of level for a period of time.”
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) December 1, 2017
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer