Auburn, Ala.--Gus Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers wrapped up their on-campus bowl preparations on Sunday and are headed home for Christmas.
The 19th-ranked Tigers are scheduled to assemble again the day after Christmas in Tampa and the following day will resume practice for their New Year’s Day Outback Bowl game vs. the 17th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
The emphasis at the workouts at Jesuit High School will turn to game-planning for Wisconsin. The Badgers will bring a 10-3 record into the contest and posted a 7-1 regular season record in the Big Ten Conference. Auburn is 8-4 overall and finished 4-4 in the SEC
“I think the big thing for us this year is we’re trying to end this thing on a positive note with that ninth win and our goal is to be the most improved team from the last game to the bowl game,” Malzahn said. “Our guys are off to a good start with practice.
“Obviously, we want to send our seniors out on a high note, but at the same time you are also building for next year,” Auburn’s second-year head coach said.
Senior wide receiver Quan Bray said he believes the return to practice after two weeks off for final exams was productive as he prepares for his final college football game. “We got a couple of days to work on us, getting all of the flaws we need to fix up, and I think it is going real well so far,” he said.
Asked how important the bowl game is to him, Bray said, “It is real important because I am a true Auburn man. I have been here three-and-a-half, going on four years, and I am loving it.”
Commenting on the matchup with Wisconsin’s defensive, which is allowing just 283.2 yards per game, Bray said, “It is somewhat difficult, but we just have to come out and execute and make throws and make the runs when we have to. If we do that we will be good.”
Wisconsin’s offense is averaging 464.8 yards per game and should offer a challenge for Auburn’s defense, especially the running attack led by Heisman Trophy runnerup Melvin Gordon. The Badgers are averaging 314 rushing yards per game, topping Auburn’s total of 258.5 per contest.
Safeties coach Charlie Harbison is the interim defensive coordinator for the bowl game, but new hire Will Muschamp has been closely watching what is happening in practice and that has made a difference in the defense’s intensity, Bray pointed out.
“Those guys are out there flying around,” Bray said. “It is really crazy to me because I have seen those guys out there and it is like they are alive now for some reason. I guess it is because Muschamp came in and got those boys on a different edge. I like the intensity and energy they are playing with right now.
“Those guys know they are getting evaluated right now,” added Bray, who is ranked No. 2 in the country in punt return average at 18.1 yards per attempt. “Those guys want to make a good impression earlier so it won’t be harder for them later on.”
In other news and notes:
*Bray said he isn’t sure if fellow wide receiver Duke Williams will return for his senior season or declare for the NFL?Draft like redshirt junior wideout Sammie Coates has done. “I just told him to pray on it,”?Bray said.
*Auburn has a 22-14-2 record in bowl games and is 1-1 vs. Wisconsin in bowl matchups.
*Kickoff for the Outback Bowl is set for 11 a.m. CST at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The game will be televised on ESPN2 with Bob Wischsen doing play-by-play with Matten Millen the analyst.
Cameron Artis-Payne was an All-SEC pick at running back.
*Nick Marshall goes into the game with 1,838 career rushing yards, the second highest total in school history, just 37 behind the school record set by Phil Gargis from 1974-76. Marshall is averaging 65 rushing yards per game this season, second on the team behind Cameron Artis-Payne’s SEC leading average of 123.5 per game.
*Artis-Payne’s total of 1,482 rushing yards is number for on Auburn’s single-season list. Tre Mason set the record last season with 1,816 and is ahead of Bo Jackson’s 1,786 in 1985 and Rudi Johnson’s 1,567 in 2000.