Atlanta the Next Stop For Malzahn's Tigers

Auburn wrapped up on-campus preparations for the SEC Football Championship Game with a Thursday evening practice as Gus Malzahn's Tigers prepare to play Missouri on Saturday.

Auburn, Ala.--It is apparent around the Auburn football complex that it is a big game week again as the No. 3 ranked Tigers wrapped up their on-campus preparations for Saturday's SEC Championship Game with a light workout on Thursday evening.

Players, coaches and support staff are making preparations with a sense of urgency getting ready for an opponent the Tigers haven't played in football since 1973.

Coach Gus Malzahn's Tigers will make the short trip to Atlanta on Friday and will have an afternoon workout at the Georgia Dome prior to Saturday's showdown vs. fifth-ranked Missouri. On Thursday evening they drilled for an hour in shorts as they polished the game plan for Saturday's 3 p.m. game vs. Mizzou.

Malzahn can make history on Saturday. With an Auburn victory he would be the first person to lead his team to an SEC Championship Game victory in his initial year as head coach of that team. The only other coach who got his team into the league championship game since it started in 1992 was LSU's Les Miles in 2005.

The only two head coaches to win an SEC title in their first seasons on the job at their SEC programs were Bernie Moore at LSU in 1935 and Johnny Vaught at Ole Miss in 1947.

Malzahn said on Thursday night the Tigers have had a good week of practice and refocused on playing Missouri after back-to-back exciting victories in the rivalry games vs. Georgia and Alabama. "We are facing a top five team and we turned on the (Missouri) film it got our guys' attention," he pointed out.

"They know we are playing for the SEC Championship," Malzahn added. "If you can't get fired up for that then something is wrong with you. Our guys have really had a solid week of practice and locked in. We need to try to improve from last week."

Malzahn noted that Missouri's team reminds him of Auburn. "They are a team that has gotten better each week," he said. "They are very good on defense. They are probably the best at putting pressure on a quarterback of anybody in our league because of the pass rushers.

"With their offense they can run the ball extremely well and they can throw it," he said. "They have a quarterback who is a veteran guy so they have got a well-rounded team. They certainly deserve to be in the championship team."

Auburn's most experienced player, redshirt senior Nosa Eguae, could see action at either tackle or end on Saturday. Eguae contributed to Auburn's victory over South Carolina in the 2010 SEC Championship Game as well as the BCS title victory over Oregon.

"We've been through it all, us seniors and even guys that are younger than us," Eguae said. "When you go through what we went through last year, you realize you've just go to play for each other, we're all we got.

"When we get into tough situations in games, it's the same thing," he added. "Football is a lot like life. We just got to go out there and whether we're down or we're up, we just got to keep fighting for each other and play for each other and play together and at the end of the day we'll find a way to win."

Part of the formula for his team's 11-1 record this season is the ability of the defense, under the direction of new coordinator Ellis Johnson, to be able to bounce back after giving up big plays to the opposing offense.

"Coach Johnson always talks about what we do after big plays," Eguae said. "That's the thing we key on. We know we're playing a great team, and they're going to make their plays, but it's what we do after. It's the same thing this week."

Nosa Eguae has played in 50 games for the Tigers and has started 40 times.

While noting that Missouri has an impressive offense, he said the same thing is true of his team. Asked what makes AU's offense so good this year, Eguae said, "It's fast-paced and the best offensive line I've seen since I've been here. Those guys play like one unit. We've got a great quarterback, great running back, great receivers. It's a hard offense to stop. You've got to pick your poison. It's a hard offense to stop."

In other news and notes:

*Auburn is 5-4-1 in games played at the Georgia Dome with a 2-2 record in SEC Championship Games at the facility.

*The Tigers are shooting for their eighth SEC football championship. Previous ones came in 1957, 1983, 1987, 1988, 1989, 2004 and 2010.

*Missouri's last conference championship came in 1969, a title it shared with Nebraska. Mizzou has a total of 12 conference championships with six in the Missouri Valley, four in the Big Six and two in the Big Eight.

*Auburn has a 4-3-1 record in games matching two teams ranked in the top five nationally after knocking off formerly No. 1 ranked Alabama last week. Auburn is 19-15-2 all-time when both teams are ranked in the Top 10.

*After 12 games this season Auburn's defense is ranked No. 31 nationally in fewest points allowed at 22.5. After 12 games last year the Tigers were ranked No. 66 nationally giving up an average of 28.3 points per outing.

*Auburn's offense goes into the championship game ranked 17th in scoring offense at 38.6 points per game. Last season the Tigers ranked 114th of 124 teams in scoring with an average of 18.7 points per game.

*In Auburn's previous games away from Jordan-Hare Stadium this season Tre Mason has rushed for an average of 148.8 yards, up from his SEC-leading season average of 109.8. In five games vs. ranked opponents this season, Mason is averaging 133.2 yards at 5.1 yards per carry after rushing for 164 last week vs. Alabama.

Tre Mason (21) runs in Auburn's 34-28 victory over Alabama.

*Mason will be looking to rush for a touchdown in a 10th consecutive game as well as surpass Cam Newton's single-season record of 20 rushing TDs scored in 2010. Mason has 18 rushing scores and one on a kickoff return.

*With 2,480 rushing yards in three seasons and two more games to play, Mason has the fourth most yards by a junior in Auburn history trailing Stephen Davis (2,811), Carnell Williams (2,666) and Bo Jackson (2,517).

*Missouri's top running back, junior Henry Josey, has more career rushing yards than Mason. Josey has 951 this season with an average of 79.2 yards per game at 6.2 yards per carry and 13 touchdowns. He has 2,566 career rushing yards.

*If Saturday's game is a close one Auburn has experience at pulling out tight contests this year. Malzahn's team is 5-0 in games decided by seven or fewer points.

*In this week's NCAA individual statistics senior cornerback Chris Davis is the second highest ranked Auburn player at No. 2 in punt return average at 20.5. Sophomore Sammie Coates is No. 2 in yards per reception at 23.2 and Mason is also in the Top 10 with his 18 rushing touchdowns, which ranks fourth.

*The CBS telecast of the game will start at 3 p.m. CST on Saturday. Verne Lundquist will be the play-by-play, Gary Danielson will be the color analyst and Tracy Wolfson will be the sideline reporter.

*The Auburn Network radio crew features play-by-play man Rod Bramblett, analyst Stan White, sideline reporter Quentin Riggins and studio host Paul Ellen. The game will be available on Sirius Channel 92 and XM Channel 199. Additionally, it is be carried on the WestwoodOne radio network.

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