Tigers Begin Practice for BCS Title Game

The Auburn football Tigers returned to the practice field on Monday and Coach Gus Malzahn said he liked what he saw.

Auburn, Ala.--After eight days off since winning the SEC Football Championship Game the Auburn Tigers returned to practice on Monday evening with a two-hour, full pads workout as the Tigers began preparations for their BCS National Championship Game date with Florida State.

"We focused on younger guys, which is always good,"said Coach Gus Malzahn. "Early this week we are just really focused on us.

"Older guys-wise we worked on fundamentals, just the little things we are trying to continue to improve and then half the time with the younger guys to give them a chance to put the ball down and let them play a little bit. We will do that probably the first half of this week."

Malzahn said the players looked like they "were flying around having fun" at practice.

Also on Monday, Auburn's first-year head coach picked up another national honor when the Football Writers Association named him the Eddie Robinson Coach of the year. "That is a true blessing and it is a tribute to our assistant coaches, which have done a wonderful job, and a tribute to our players when you get awards," Malzahn said. "This is a group award. Anytime you get a head coaching award it's a group thing."

Even though he signed a new deal with Auburn prior to his team's 59-42 SEC Championship Game victory over Missouri, Malzahn's name has been mentioned as a potential coaching candidate for other jobs by some in the media. Asked about that on Monday, Malzahn responded like he had previously stating, "I'm a good fit for the Auburn Tigers. That is why I signed the contract the day before the SEC Championship. Like I said before, I'm tickled to death to be here."

Auburn will come into the national championship game ranked No. 2 nationally while Florida State, the unbeaten ACC champs, is ranked No. 1. "They're extremely fast," Malzahn said when asked about the Seminoles. "When you turn on the film, on both sides of the ball, the thing that jumped out to me is speed--they're super fast.

"They have done a great job recruiting," he added. "They have got a whole lot of good players. It's not a coincidence they are the No. 1 team in the country and undefeated. Nobody has even come close to them."

Malzahn also had praise for FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who was presented the Heisman Trophy on Saturday. "I was pretty familiar with him, I recruited him," the coach pointed out. "I got to know him and his family so we know each other pretty well.

"He is phenomenal, there's no doubt. He is good within his system, but when things break down he is very good. He is strong. He has got that baseball arm and the ball can get there in a hurry from a long, long distance in addition to his feet."

If Auburn is going to defeat the Seminoles the Tigers will likely need another big effort from the ground attack. The Tigers moved into the national lead in rushing yards per game after netting 545 vs. Missouri in the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers are averaging 335.7 yards per game with an average of 6.5 yards per carry.

Tre Mason is averaging 5.7 yards per rush and has 22 rushing touchdowns. Corey Grant is averaging 10.0 yards per carry and has six rushing touchdowns. Cameron Artis-Payne is averaging 6.8 yards per carry and also has six rushing scores.

Running backs coach Tim Horton said the running backs, and the offense as a group, have made major strides this season. "I think that starts with individual improvement, but then each unit improved," he said.

"Obviously, the development of our quarterback helped immensely," Horton said of Nick Marshall. "We have got a really good quarterback."

Tim Horton

The former Arkansas coach noted that he has really be pleased with how the running backs have performed as a unit. "I am really proud of our players and you have to give a lot of credit to the offensive line," he said. "It all starts up front with those guys."

Marshall, Mason ,Grant and Artis-Payne have each produced a 100-yard rushing game this season for the 12-1 Tigers. Only six other college football teams have matched that total this season.

Mason comes into the national title game on a streak of five consecutive 100-yard rushing games. The last Tiger to do that was Kenny Irons in 2005. Mason has eight 100-yard rushing games this season and 11 as an Auburn player.

Mason spent the weekend in New York City at the Heisman Trophy ceremonies with Malzahn in attendance. "I was very proud of the way he represented us," the coach said. "He did a great job. That is a huge award to get to that point even to go, especially when he really wasn't even in the conversation until late, but it was a great experience for him, for our program, and it was good."

Tre Mason is shown on Saturday in New York City.

With a long layoff prior to playing FSU in on January 6th that should give Mason, who carried the football a school-record 46 times vs. Missouri, plenty of time to heal from his bumps and bruises picked up over his team's previous 13 games.

In other news and notes:

*Mason is only the sixth Auburn player to have back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He joins Joe Cribbs (1978-79), James Brooks (1979-80), Stephen Davis (1994-95), Carnell Williams (2003-04) and Michael Dyer (2010-11) on that list.

*The Tigers are expected to practice through Saturday this week before taking a break for Christmas. Then they will return to campus on the 26th for more practices before taking a charter flight to California on the 31st where they will continue preparations for the BCS Championship Game that will be played on Monday, Jan. 6th.

*With fall semester final exams finished, Malzahn was asked if all of his players are in good shape academically for the championship game. "I believe so," he said.

*Florida State enters the BCS title game with a 15-game winning streak, the longest in major college football. Auburn's nine-game winning streak is no. 2.

*The Tigers head into the game with a streak of nine consecutive games in which they have scored at least 30 points, which is the longest in school history. The previous high was eight during the 1994 season.

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