AUBURN | The stakes may be higher than ever for Auburn this weekend, but the magnitude of an Iron Bowl featuring two top-5 teams doesn't change things for Gus Malzahn.
It's not like he can be more intense.
"We could be playing a junior high team and I'm going to be very motivated," he said.
Passion and focus have been Malzahn's most obvious traits since his arrival 11 months ago. Now that Auburn has overcome its recent history to emerge as a Southeastern Conference title contender, the Tigers' coach says now isn't the time to make even small procedural adjustments.
He's keeping everything the same.
That includes zero chatter about how a win next weekend would affect what happens in December and beyond. Malzahn said he doesn't engage in those kinds of projections and doesn't see any place for them.
"We'll worry about all that patting-yourself-on-the-back stuff after the season," Malzahn said. "When you're in the middle of it, you've got to stay grounded. You've got to stay focused and you've got to take care of the next job that's ahead of you."
Coaches can ignore distractions.
Most of them have participated in highly emotional games both as a player and coach. They've learned how to cope with drama.
Players are more likely to be fazed by the spectacle. Tight end C.J. Uzomah said it's impossible to ignore the stream of recreational vehicles that already have commandeered lots near Jordan-Hare Stadium.
School may be out this week, but thousands of fans have arrived in town.
"I mean, seven days? There are already people on campus tailgating and getting ready," Uzomah said Sunday. "In my mind this is going to be the most unbelievable crowd and atmosphere that I've ever gotten to play in. I'm looking forward to it."
Auburn typically takes Mondays off, but Malzahn said they've added a practice to the schedule. Since classes are out for the Thanksgiving holiday, players can dedicate more time to football.
Still, those practices will unfold just as they have during the past three months. That's exactly the way defensive lineman Nosa Eguae wants it.
"It's about the process, man. Every single day, we're going to do what we have to do to get better," he said. "That's what got us here and that's what we're going to do this week. Nothing is going to change. We're going to do what we do. We're going to come out there Saturday and play great football."
MORE FROM SUNDAY:
The Iron Bowl again will be special for tailback Corey Grant, who signed with Alabama in 2010 and spent a year there before transferring to Auburn. He said the transition wasn't bad. "It was kind of exciting," Grant said. "Everybody welcomed me back. It was like I had been here the whole time and … I knew a lot of the guys already on the team."
Grant said he's still friends with tight end Brian Vogler, defensive back Jarrick Williams and linebacker C.J. Mosley. "Since I haven't talked to any (of them) yet, I don't think will … this week," Grant said. "Usually I talk with them on Twitter or Facebook or something like that."
Eguae was asked to compare the 2010 and 2013 teams Sunday, but he recoiled. "I'm not a guy who likes to compare different teams," the senior said. "For us, we're the 2013 Auburn football team. We hang our hat on that. It means a lot to us. We're playing for each other and we're doing everything that you want a football team to do and that the fans want to see."
Auburn conceded 38 points against Georgia last weekend, which provided a strong reminder than the defense has a long way to go. "We don't think we've played our best game," Eguae said. "We know that game is still out there for us. The big part of it, playing in as many games as I have played in and also a lot of other guys, we know it's the process and it's the leading up."
Malzahn said his dedicating to keeping weekly preparations the same and avoiding talk about anything beyond the next game has produced the desired result. "(Players) haven't changed. In our team meetings, our practice, they seem like the same team it was four or five weeks ago as far as their approach," he said. "I think that's a positive."
Uzomah smiled when asked about Auburn being discussed in the national media as much as Alabama these days. "We've been seeing it just because we watch TV and they're always on the cover of everything," he said. "I think that's just fuel for us, just knowing there's so much hype and talk about them that we're going to prove ourselves -- and we feel like we will. We're just going to need a great week of practice."