October 22, 2013

Sticking together

AUBURN | The Tigers' win at Texas A&M provided even the most ardent doubter that Gus Malzahn has made substantial progress on the Plains.

Now comes the hard part.

Auburn, currently No. 11 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings, quickly is re-gaining the national relevance that's been missing since September 2011. The spotlight affects everyone in different ways, of course, and every player now must guard against the Tigers' success altering their approach to the game.

Malzahn knows that has become a big part of his task.

"We're happy that people think that highly of us, but we're on to the next week and that's our only focus," the coach said Tuesday. "(I'm) just being real honest that we're not changing anything that go us here … and to keep doing exactly what we've been doing."

Why does Malzahn believe that can happen?

He's been preparing for it all along.

The Tigers' new coaching staff was unusually tough and abrasive with players throughout spring practice. There were several reasons why that tough-love approach was necessary -- creating a distaste for failure gets is the most obvious byproduct -- but those difficult months had a much more important effect as summer turned to fall.

Interpersonal accountability became an overarching theme inside the locker room and on the practice field. Players no longer were fueled by avoidance of a coach's scorn; they were fueled by a desire to improve because that's what they expected from each other.

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