“He’ll be out for the year,” Malzahn said of Lambert. “That’s a big blow for us. We’re going to need some guys to step up.”
Leading the team with three and a half sacks and third with seven tackles for losses in his nine starts, Lambert has been solid off the edge for the Tigers in his first season at Auburn.
With senior tackle Jeffrey Whitaker also out because of a back injury it leaves the Tigers thin on the defensive line as they prepare to face one of the best offenses in the country. Leaning on Gabe Wright to be the swing man between defensive tackle and defensive end is one of the plans for Auburn this week, but Malzahn said it forces everyone to pick up their game a notch.
“It’s a big factor,” Malzahn said. “We need some other guys to step up. Football is a team game and when you’re playing against your rival it’s got the ability to have guys step up and play better than they have all year and that’s what we need.”
The good news for Auburn is that wide receivers Duke Williams and Ricardo Louis are both expected back this weekend. Williams is back after missing the last two games and most of the Texas A&M contest. Louis returns after sitting out of the Samford contest. Having both back will be a huge boost for the Auburn offense, particularly getting the dependable Williams back in the middle of the field.
“When you are a quarterback you always have certain receivers you’re comfortable with,” Malzahn said. “After you play with them it gives you confidence they can make a play for you if you put the ball in a certain area. That will definitely be a plus.
“Until he got hurt he was a big factor and made a lot of plays for us in the passing game,” the coach added. “We didn’t have him and Ricardo last week and it definitely changes things. To get both of those guys back on the field it will get things back in balance better than it has been the last few weeks.”
Duke Williams leads Auburn in catches, receiving and receiving touchdowns
One of the biggest problems for Auburn this season, and in particular the last month, has been the rash of penalties impacting the Tigers. One of the fewest penalized teams in the league last year, Auburn now leads the SEC in penalties with 75 for 756 yards, which is one of the worst penalty totals in the nation. Malzahn said it’s something that has to be corrected and it starts at the top.
“We haven’t been disciplined enough,” he said. “That’s where it really starts. At this point you put everything up to this point behind and you’re playing the Iron Bowl. We have to do a better job in the penalty area and I expect us to do that.
“The penalties, it starts with me,” he added. “I have to do a better job of making our guys understand.”