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December 4, 2013

Promises kept

Untitled

AUBURN | What a year it's been.

Gus Malzahn was hired away from Arkansas State on Dec. 4, 2012, with Auburn at perhaps its lowest point since 1998. The team was winless in Southeastern Conference games last season and was competitive in only two of those losses.

How about now?

The Tigers finished the regular season 11-1 and play Missouri for the Southeastern Conference title this weekend.

"I'm very blessed to be the head coach of the Auburn Tigers," Malzahn said Wednesday night. "I really appreciate the guys who gave me this opportunity, who believed in me. It's been a lot of fun, a blessing to coach this year. We're playing for the SEC championship, so it's been a good year."

Malzahn wasn't shy about creating substantial expectations after being hired, exclaiming that Auburn would win championships under his watch. He promised toughness, a powerful run game and a fast pace that would transform the Tigers into contenders.

He came through on all counts.

"Auburn is a great place. Auburn is a place that expects to win championships," Malzahn said. "When I got hired, I knew it was a matter of time. Our players have done an excellent job to put us in this position."

Plenty of work remains.

Auburn will face a Missouri team that's enjoying a renaissance of its own this season. The Eastern Division Tigers won just two league games in 2012 yet also head to Atlanta as a one-loss team with a dynamic offense. Quarterback James Franklin is fully healthy after suffering a separate shoulder in October and he's overseeing an offended loaded with effective tailbacks and game-breaking wideouts.

"We've got our hands full with this team -- one of the top teams in the country," Malzahn said.

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Malzahn said cornerback Chris Davis, whose return of a missed field goal win the Iron Bowl last weekend, has adjusted well to his new-found fame. "It was a big play, but Chris has put that behind him," Malzahn said. "He's focused on the Missouri Tigers. That's our challenge. We'll pat ourselves on the back and think about that after the season."

  • Malzahn said linebacker Javiere Mitchell, who was knocked out of the Iron Bowl while working on kickoff coverage, is scheduled to play this weekend.

  • Malzahn said turnovers -- both creating them and preventing them -- will be an important facet of the game Saturday. "They're one of the best teams in the country as far as protecting the football and getting turnovers," he said. "They've very active; they go for the football. One of the better defensive fronts in all of college football getting after the quarterback."

  • When asked about a recent SI.com column asserting that he's interested in coaching at Texas, Malzahn said he's "tickled to death" about being the Auburn head coach.



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