By Greg Ostendorf
ATLANTA -- When Austin Golson was asked this week about a specific moment that stuck out from this season, his response wasn't the dominant 40-17 win over No. 1 Georgia the first time the two sides met. It wasn't beating No. 1 Alabama two weeks later when the fans rushed the field. It was the loss to LSU midway through the season.
"I think that really defined our team," Golson said. "We were able to come back to practice and go on a roll like we did. We stayed together as a team when things were not going so good, and we came back and won the SEC West. So I thought that was a huge defining moment in our season."
That run that Auburn went on after the LSU game -- winning five straight games, beating two No. 1 teams and winning the West -- it's a credit to the leadership of the team, and it likely never would've happened if not for Golson and the other 19 seniors on the roster.
It's a senior class that has been through its share of ups and downs during their time at Auburn, but they have a chance in Monday's Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl to play one last game as an Auburn Tiger and add one more victory to their legacy. And if the response after the LSU game was any indication, this group will be motivated and eager to finish it the right way.
"Sometimes you see these bowl games, this day and time, the [seniors] are already kind of looking ahead," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Sunday. "But our seniors are locked in. We weren't happy the way we finished the last game in the same stadium. After we got back and after all the hurt and everything was over, they rolled up their sleeves and said we need to win this bowl game.
"So they started talking about that and the future, not just this game, but if we were able to win, it would give us momentum for the future. And I think we're in a great spot for the future. This group has really set the foundation."
Not overlooking UCF
In terms of traditional powers, UCF isn't Alabama or Georgia. But don't tell the Auburn players that. In their eyes, the challenge is no different. This is another undefeated team -- it's the third undefeated team Auburn has played in its last five games -- and the players are treating it the same as when they faced Georgia and Alabama during the regular season.
"They're still an undefeated team," Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson said. "They've got a good coach. They've got good players. If you go out there and think `they're this' or `they're this,' the next thing you know you're down 21-0 and now you look like the clown.
"We've got to go out there and play as if we're playing Alabama or Georgia. That's our task."
For Malzahn, it wasn't long after he turned on the film that he realized how talented this UCF team is. The Knights are undefeated for a reason.
"You don't get to a bowl like this unless you're really good," Malzahn said. "Offensively, I'm very impressed. They have a great scheme. It really matches their personnel. They have a lot of speed on offense. Defensively, they play extremely hard. They have got some impact players.
"And probably one of the things that really stands out to me, too, is they won some close games. They find ways to win close games, and that's a trait of a very good football team."
Next man up
Malzahn announced Sunday that junior cornerback Carlton Davis, who has been dealing an illness all week, will not play in the bowl game.
"Obviously, Carlton is a great player," Malzahn said. "He's done a super job for us this year. But the good thing is we do have some depth on the back end, and we've got some experience on the back end."
That means that fellow cornerbacks Javaris Davis and Jamel Dean will have to step up, and it also creates an opportunity for younger players like John Broussard Jr., Jordyn Peters and Traivon Leonard to contribute more in the bowl game. All three have rotated in at different points during the season.
Per Malzahn, everybody else on the team will be ready to go Monday.
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @greg_ostendorf
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl Ticket Information
Join Coach Malzahn and the seventh ranked Tigers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as they play tenth ranked and undefeated UCF in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Monday, January 1. Tickets are available online at AUBTIX.com or by phone at (855) 282-2010.