On Saturday in Knoxville, Coach Gus Malzahn's team continued its march up the rankings to No. 7 in the AP and No. 9 in the coaches poll with a 55-23 blasting of Tennessee at Neyland Stadium. The 55 points was the most ever scored by either team in the series.
While it was far from perfect, Malzahn said he is proud of the way his team continues to concentrate on each opponent. That will be needed again with rivalry games coming up against Georgia and Alabama to close out the year.
"Any time you're playing good teams, you have to play your best football," Malzahn said. "We talked about improvement in each practice and each game and I feel like for the most part we have done that all season. We are going to have to continue to do that because you're talking about two of the better teams in all of college football."
Nick Marshall rushed for 214 yards vs. Tennessee.
Riding high at 9-1 Auburn pounded the Vols into submission with a bruising running game led by quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason. Not part of a terrible 2012 season with the Tigers, Marshall said he thought this season could be big if the team followed Malzahn's plan for success, and so far that has been the case.
"Coach Malzahn said this is going to be the biggest turnaround in college football," Marshall said. "All of us bought into that and we're just doing what the coaches tell us to keep winning."
It's that dogged determination that has kept the focus in line for the Tigers. Never a coach to get ahead of himself going all the way back to his high school days, Malzahn's attention to detail has proven to be huge for a team that has come out of nowhere to make a run back into the upper echelon of college football in 2013.
"We just keep doing what we are doing and the coaches stress that in practice--every phase of the game just keep getting better," running back Corey Grant said. "With these two upcoming games special teams is going to be a big part and contributor so I think we just keep working hard to get better in those areas also."
Winning road games in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 2005 with victories over Kentucky and Georgia, Auburn returns home for the final two games against its two biggest rivals. Learning plenty about his first Auburn team after a rough first 15 minutes at LSU, Malzahn said he's proud of what this team has turned into this year.
"The first quarter we were on the verge of being terrible against LSU and I think everybody saw that," the coach noted. "After that first quarter we played pretty good football on the road. This is the toughest conference in the country, especially on the road, so we're glad the road is behind us."
You often hear players and coaches talk about goals of winning a championship before the start of a new season. That was something Auburn's players mentioned going back to the preseason and SEC Media Days, but Malzahn said he has been determined to keep things much simpler for his team with no talk of anything down the line from him, only about the new day. That has been the focus and he said there's no reason to change it now.
"I didn't let my mind go there," Malzahn said about winning nine games. "We just took it one game at a time. I told our guys that as long as we improve each practice and each game, we'll see what happens. I was curious just like our team was how we would do and how we would improve. They found a way and they bought into what we asked them to do and I'm proud of them for that."
The Tigers return to action this week with a 2:30 p.m. CST kickoff vs. Georgia in a game that will be televised on CBS.