"Practice has been very solid," Malzahn said of the week of preparations for Texas A&M. "I really think our guys are starting to get into a routine. Our leaders are starting to emerge and they are not going to let their teammates let up. It is a good thing we are to that point.
"For the most part I can say we have had very few practices when we didn't get better," Malzahn said. "We have got to continue that. We haven't arrived yet. We are not there yet and our players know that. We are still making some mistakes we have to correct if we are going to finish this thing strong.
After earning its first victory of the Malzahn Era two weeks ago vs. Ole Miss his team will try to earn its first victory vs. a Top 10 opponent when Auburn plays seventh-ranked Texas A&M on Saturday at Kyle Field in College Station, Tex. Both squads come into the game with 5-1 overall records and 2-1 marks in SEC play.
Malzahn was involved in Auburn's last win vs. a Top 10 opponent when No. 1 Auburn knocked off No. 2 Oregon in the BCS Championship Game in the coach's third season at AU as offensive coordinator during the 2010 season.
Auburn has won 81 consecutive games when scoring at least 30 points, but the Tigers may have to score a lot more than just 30 to keep up with the Aggies who lead the SEC in scoring with an average of 47.8 points per contest.
Running back Cameron Artis-Payne said the Tigers realize winning at Texas A&M won't be easy. "I think it is going to be a big challenge, but I think we will be up to it. Coach Malzahn is going to have a game plan for us to win. The only thing we have to do is go out and execute it."
A key for the Tigers could be controlling the football vs. the Aggies to keep Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel off the field. Running back Cameron Artis-Payne said he likes what he is seeing from the big guys up front.
"Our offensive line is getting better and better every week," said Artis-Payne, who noted that offensive line coach J.B. Grimes has that group performing at a high level with the Tigers leading the SEC in rushing this week at 287 yards per contest.
Center Reese Dismukes has started all 29 games he has played in for the Tigers and is having a strong junior season.
Artis-Payne is accounting for 64.8 rushing yards per contest while averaging 7.2 yards per carry in his first season with the Tigers. "I feel like I am still getting better now that we are getting into SEC play," he said. "All in all I am trying to improve every day."
In Auburn's 62-3 Homecoming victory over Western Carolina last Saturday the Tigers used Artis-Payne as a wildcat quarterback for several plays and had success in that formation. "That is something we have been working on," the junior said. "We wanted to practice that in a game setting and moving forward hopefully we will use it some more."
A player who has seen his playing time increase in recent games is freshman wide receiver Tony Stevens, who scored his first college touchdown last week vs. Western Carolina.
After missing the opener with a hamstring problem that sidelined him much of preseason, Stevens has played in every game since then and has five catches for 68 yards. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said to expect the freshman's role to increase in the second half of the season.
"Dr. (James) Andrews did a good job on my hamstring," said Stevens, noting the problem dated back to when he tore the muscle when he was still in high school. "It feels great."
Stevens, who has the potential to be a deep threat, said he believes he will get more playing this week vs. Texas A&M.
In other news and notes:
*Senior middle linebacker Jake Holland was held out of the contact practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, but was able to do the whole practice on Thursday and has been cleared to play vs. the Aggies.
*Weakside linebacker Justin Garrett is still out (ankle, foot injuries) and is expected to apply for a medical hardship redshirt.
*Malzahn said on Thursday that No. 1 quarterback Nick Marshall looked "100 percent" in practice after sitting out last week with a knee problem. "He has got that burst back and everything that he had before," the coach said.
*Freshman tackle Montravius Adams, who was held out of action with a knee bruise last week, is expected to take a major role in the defense vs. the Aggies.
*Tight end C.J. Uzomah, who was out last week with a leg injury, is expected to be running with the first team vs. Texas A&M. Malzahn said the junior "close to 100 percent" physically this week.
Auburn's only other scholarship player at the position, Brandon Fulse, did not play last week due to a suspension. Malzahn has not said whether or not Fulse will play vs. the Aggies, but he was put on the traveling squad. Starting right tackle Patrick Miller, who was also out last week due to a suspension, was replaced in the starting lineup by Avery Young, who is expected to start vs. the Aggies. Malzahn graded out well last Saturday and followed that up with "a good week of practice," Malzahn said.
Chris Davis is a senior.
*Cornerback Chris Davis is expected to take over his previous assignment as Auburn's No. 1 punt returner this week now that he is back to full speed after missing two games in September with an ankle injury. Quan Bray had been handling the punt return duties.
*Pressuring Manziel when he looks to pass will be a key to success for the Tigers on Saturday. Eleven different AU defensive linemen have a quarterback sack this season. As a group the ends and tackles have 14 sacks and 35 tackles for loss in six games. Last year in 12 games the front four finished with 16 sacks and 33 1/2 tackles for loss.
*Under first-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson the Tigers are averaging an SEC-best 8.2 tackles for loss per game, which ranks ninth nationally. Coming into the season Johnson said a more aggressive style of play was going to a major theme. Auburn's defense has 49 tackles for 160 lost yards in six games. Last year in 12 games the Tigers made 66 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for 233 lost yards.
*In the previous game on the road this season at LSU the Tigers played in a heavy rain. For Saturday's game the forecast is for just a 10 percent chance of rain with temperatures in the 60s and windy at Kyle Field in College Station, Tex., where the Tigers will be playing for the first time in school history.
*Saturday's game will be televised by CBS with Verne Lundquist doing the play by play, Gary Danielson the analyst and Tracy Wolfson the sideline reporter. Kickoff is set for shortly after 2:30 p.m. CDT.
*Radio coverage on the game can be heard on Sirius channel 92 and XM channel 199. The game will also be broadcast on stations around the country on the WestwoodOne Sports network.