When Auburn loses its edge, the Tigers can still put together a historical season — historically bad.
That was the case in 2012 when Auburn had its worst season...well, ever.
The Tigers went through their first winless SEC season since 1980 and their first nine-loss season since 1950.
Since new coach Gus Malzahn took over the Auburn football program in December, his first order of business is getting that swagger back.
“The number one thing that our players have to do for us to be successful this year is get our edge back. That is the mental and physical toughness, the blue-collar, hard-nosed, hit-you-in-the-mouth Auburn football that’s made Auburn great,” Malzahn said at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. “History shows if Auburn has their edge, they can compete for championships and win games.”
Auburn floundered on all accounts last year. The offense generated 24 touchdowns on the season with 15 of those coming against Alabama A&M, New Mexico State and Louisiana-Monroe. The Tigers were ranked last in the SEC in total offense, averaging 305 yards a game.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers’ defense was man-handled in SEC play, allowing a staggering 34 points per game. Auburn was outscored 87-0 by rivals Georgia and Alabama.
“I told our guys last year is last year. I don’t care why, how or whatever. We’re putting it in our rearview mirror. We’re looking to the future. I talked about a new day,” Malzahn said. “When I first got there, we had to do some Dr. Phil-ing. There were some mental scars. I feel good about our team. They put it in their rearview mirror and they’re looking into the future.”
During Malzahn’s first stint on the Plains as Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-11, the Tigers’ offense jumped from 110th in the nation in scoring offense to 17th in 2009. Auburn’s offense was ranked in the top 20 all three years.
Now, less than two months away from the 2013 season opener, Malzahn is still looking for a quarterback to run his up-tempo offensive system.
Both Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace went through spring practice, but newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson join the mix once fall practice starts next month.
“Hopefully one of them will step up and distance themselves from the others. Anytime you’re going to have four guys, that’s definitely a concern. I felt very strong we knew about the two guys in spring, but I wanted to give those two new guys a fair chance. We’ll be doing things a little bit different in fall camp early, and hopefully one of those guys will emerge sooner rather than later,” Malzahn said.
Last year both Frazier and Wallace spent time behind center with neither making much of an impact. The duo combined to throw eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Auburn’s coaching staff includes some familiar faces this season.
Malzahn was praised by fans for putting together an experienced staff that includes former Auburn players and top recruiters Dameyune Craig and Rodney Garner.
“When I first got the job, I felt it was important that we got former Auburn players that have been successful and understood what Auburn was about, had that special passion about it.
“Rodney Garner is one of the better defensive line coaches in all of college football. I believe the last two head coaches at Auburn have tried to hire him. He’s an excellent recruiter. He’s an excellent coach on the field. Of course, Dameyune is known as a great recruiter, which he is. But he is a big-time football coach. I believe he was the quarterback coach the last two years and had first-round draft picks.”
Malzahn has noticed that Auburn fans, as well as the players, are ready to forget the struggles of 2012.
“I feel very blessed to be back at Auburn as the head coach. I feel like we have the best fans in all of college football. If you look at our spring game, we had 83,000-plus fans. Coming off a year like we did last year, that says everything about them,” Malzahn said.
“It was a special feeling for me to come through and see those (fans) in the lobby. I’m really looking forward to the first day of practice.”