The Tigers enter the game with a 4-1 record, one more win than all of last season. They have also beaten a pair of decent SEC teams in Mississippi State and Ole Miss after going winless in the conference a year ago.
The 2012 squad was within a touchdown of taking the lead in the fourth quarter against Clemson, Louisiana-Monroe, LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, but managed a lone win over Monroe in those games.
In Gus Malzahn's first five games as Auburn head coach his Tigers have pulled out a seven-point victory over Washington State, a four-point win over Mississippi State and an eight-point win against Ole Miss.
So far this year Auburn is outscoring its opponents 30-13 in the fourth quarter.
"That's how we practice," senior defensive end Dee Ford said. "We practice hard. We practice full speed to be ready for situations like this in the fourth quarter. We plan on being the dominant team. We practice hard, and it's paying off in games."
Also in contrary to a season ago, the Tigers aren't laying down when the going gets tough. This year's Tigers get going.
The lone loss of the year was 35-21 at LSU in which the Tigers quickly fell behind 21-0. The 2012 team faced scores like that several times, but the end results were embarrassing scores of 63-21 vs. Texas A&M, 38-0 vs. Georgia and 49-0 at Alabama.
However, when Auburn fell behind at LSU this year there was no quit. There wasn't any lying down on the part of the coaches nor the players. The coaches went for a pair of onside kicks and numerous fourth downs. The players fought back, executed and played a much more physical second half.
If not for a barely missed recovery on an inside kick and a drive that the Tigers reached the LSU four-yard line and came away without points in the final minute, the game could have been dangerously close to overtime.
"Coming into the season there were a few guys who were iffy--they knew we had the potential," Ford said of the change in attitude and confidence. "The few guys that were iffy, that first win helped, that second win helped, that third win helped. We laid an egg against LSU, and we knew we had a lot to improve on. That helped us coming into the fourth game (versus Ole Miss), now we're ready to see where this thing can go.
"We'll keep practicing the way we're doing, and just perform on Saturday," the senior said. "Last year we had great practices. We just never did perform. This year is totally different.
"We grew up," Ford added of the LSU game. "That was one thing I know specifically Coach Johnson (defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson) kept telling us. We can't shoot ourselves in the foot. We can do this against teams that aren't as proficient as SEC schools. We can't shoot ourselves in the foot and expect to win.
"That happened very early at LSU," Ford recalled. "We looked at each other. He said it. We built from there. We fought back. I think if we would have recovered that onside kick it would have been a totally different game. It was a lesson learned, but I couldn't be more proud about (the Ole Miss win) and the team."
Even though Alabama knocked off Texas A&M 49-42 and Georgia defeated LSU 44-41 the SEC will always one that is won in the trenches. The scores of those games are indicative of the quarterback play--veteran guys who either have multiple national championships, a Heisman Trophy, several SEC records or a load of talent.
This year's Auburn team isn't where it needs to be in the trenches, but it is getting better. The offensive line is loaded with young talent, and the defense has been subbing for the most part 10 guys across the front four to stay fresh and develop youth.
On Saturday versus Ole Miss, Auburn showed several fronts, played long-time end Nosa Eguae at tackle and got former five-star recruit and true freshman Carl Lawson involved in the game. Both Ford and Lawson had a pair of sacks, as did tackle Gabe Wright.
"That's the thing that we wanted to do was give them some different looks, show some things they hadn't seen before and also execute our base defense," Ford noted. "I think we moved around a lot with our fronts, but we ran mostly base defense and executed well. I think showing the new front definitely helped to put pressure on them."
Ford was held out of action versus Washington State and Arkansas State while recovering from a preseason knee injury. He was slowed the next two games against Mississippi State and Louisiana State.
He looked to be back in old form against the Rebels, tallying three tackles for a loss including two sacks, drew a couple of holding penalties by Ole Miss and was just disruptive for most of the evening.
"I'm closer than I was two weeks ago," he said of his health. "I can't really put a measurement on it. It's more of a ‘I feel it inside.' I really can't say. I'm definitely not limping around. I'm definitely going to keep on working to get that explosion."
Auburn and Western Carolina kickoff at 1 p.m. CDT on Saturday. If the Tigers improve to 5-1 it would be their best start since 2010.