A loss to LSU in Baton Rouge left a mark on Gus Malzahn’s football team entering a matchup with top-ranked Georgia at home.
The mindset of his team, he said, changed once his team gave up a 20-point lead for its second loss on the season.
“After the LSU game, that was a defining moment about which way we were going to go,” Malzahn said. “Our leadership took over, and we continued to prove after that second half that we were a good team.”
Despite a 23-point first half, Auburn failed to score a single second-half point to add onto their existing lead. Malzahn said, with all of the scrutiny the coaching staff received for perceived conservative play calling that game, his team has become more aggressive later in games.
“There are certain things that you learn from and there are certain mistakes that you make and you try not to make the same mistake twice,” he said. “The mindset of keeping the hammer down is something we have. So far we have done that.”
With a 16-7 lead over Georgia at halftime, Malzahn kept the hammer down by scoring an additional 24 points to seal the victory.
In addition to maintaining an aggressive mindset, Malzahn says his offensive line, as well as special teams play, will continue to play a pivotal role in the team’s success moving forward.
“I think this year you’ve seen this [offensive line] improve each week,” he said. “You’ve seen that group grow, and they’re playing their best football right now.”
On special teams, Malzahn put an emphasis on Louisiana-Monroe kick returner Marcus Green, who has 628 kick return yards and three touchdowns. Against Georgia, the Tigers allowed sophomore Mecole Hardman to get 147 yards on five returns.
While adding more to their special teams, Malzahn expects running back Kerryon Johnson, who had 167 yards on 32 carries in the win, to continue having more carries despite injury concern.
His durability, he said, was comparable to that of former Auburn running back Tre Mason.
“He probably could have carried it another 10 times the other night,” Malzahn said. “[Mason] was exactly the same. Some guys get stronger, and he’s got that ability.”
With a win over Georgia, Auburn expects to play for a spot in the SEC Championship when Alabama returns to The Plains Thanksgiving week.
Wide receiver Ryan Davis, who finished with four receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown, says the team has moved on from the win over the Bulldogs to focusing primarily on the Warhawks.
“We don’t have time to worry about the game before,” Davis said. “Next thing you know, it’s Monday and you’re getting ready for the next one.”
Even with Louisiana-Monroe presenting a roadblock to Auburn’s marquee matchup in the Iron Bowl, Davis says this week’s preparation is much of the same.
“Same preparation as you would any other week,” he said. “The Iron Bowl doesn’t matter if you don’t win this game.”