Working with Russell at Arkansas State last season and before that at Auburn, Malzahn knew what he was getting in the energetic Russell and liked the up-tempo training mentality he brought to the table for the Red Wolves in 2012.
Working feverishly since last winter to be stronger and in better shape to win the fourth quarter, Auburn has taken on a motto called F.I.S.T that the players are relying on to carry them when most teams fail late in games.
"All off season, fist for four," center Reese Dismukes said of Auburn's training motto. "In the fourth quarter, we hold the fist up. That's what we do during training when we get to that point. That's our thing: First for four. Fast. Intense. Strong. Tough."
A team that faded last season late in football games and late in the season, this year's Auburn team was determined not to let the same thing happen again. The addition of Russell and Malzahn's intense personality plus attention to detail has worked wonders for the Tigers so far.
Outscoring opponents 64-30 in the final 15 minutes, Auburn has has allowed just 7-35 conversions on third down attempts on the defensive side of the ball. That 20 percent rate is tied with Alabama for the best in the SEC.
It's not just the mindset that Russell has created for the Tigers, but also his plan of action. Continuing weight lifting throughout the regular season while also making sure the players get as prepared as possible for the game on Saturday, Dismukes said everything has come together to create an environment of success for Auburn this year and moving forward.
"We've been lifting heavy all year and getting stronger in-season," Dismukes noted. "I think that really has kind of stood us apart. We haven't really taken much off in the weight room.
"Obviously, we're not doing as much or as many reps or anything, but I think we're doing a real good job of maintaining our strength," Dismukes added. "That has really helped. Coach Malzahn has done a great job of cutting back here lately as far as on our legs and things like that so that we're not fatigued. I think it has really shown in the fourth quarter lately."
With the final road game of the season coming up this Saturday at Tennessee, Auburn is looking to keep the momentum going against the Volunteers and if that happens there is a good chance success in the fourth quarter will be a big part of that. Leading the SEC in rushing yards at 306.2 yards per game and converting 47.1 percent of third down attempts in the fourth quarter, the Tigers would love nothing better than to turn the game over to the offensive line and running back Tre Mason once again this weekend to put the finishing touches on a victory.
Mason said that's the plan that the coaching staff and Russell set for them in the preseason and they hope to keep it going.
"A lot has been different," Mason said of the season. "His way of going about things is a lot different. He's big on keeping us fresh, keeping us strong. He has this thing, Fists for Four, we're going to win the fourth quarter. Ever since this summer it's been proven."
Malzahn agreed with his talented running back. Watching his team develop that mentality he wanted to instill, the coach said it has been a focus and will continue to be one moving forward.
"I think it's just the way our guys practice and the way they approach it," Malzahn said. "That's kind of who we are, and we can hang our hat on that in conditioning, and we hang our hat on getting to the second half and wearing people down."
Auburn will take on Tennessee this Saturday at 11 a.m. CST in Neyland Stadium. The game can be seen on ESPN.