Auburn, Ala.--Gus Malzahn knows all too well about expectations and how things can change quickly playing in the Southeastern Conference. This time a year ago the Auburn Tigers had already gone from preseason Top 10 to finding themselves on the outside looking in to even make a bowl game.
That’s the same spot the Ole Miss Rebels stand heading into Saturday night’s game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. One of the media darlings heading into the season, Coach Hugh Freeze’s team lost close games to Florida State and Alabama early in the year, but remained in the Top 25 because of how well they had played.
Even a close loss on the road at Arkansas didn’t knock them completely out of the rankings, but a fourth loss in seven games finally did the trick. Falling 38-21 on the road last week at LSU, Ole Miss is a team reeling at the moment and Malzahn said it’s not hard to do in this league.
“You’re talking about an Ole Miss team that is very talented,” Malzahn said. “I told our guys ‘don’t let that record deceive you’ because that’s one of the top groups in our league. In our league it doesn’t matter, anybody can beat anybody. It’s a grind. It’s a survival of the fittest. Everybody is talented so you have to be tough, you have to be mentally tough in your staff and your players. It takes all of that.”
Malzahn is trying to make sure his team is prepared for what awaits in Oxford, an Ole Miss team that will be desperate for a win that could turn its season around. For Auburn it’s another opportunity to stay on track to achieving a goal that has been out there since the loss to Clemson in the season opener, being a better football team each week.
“With the defense, I thought they’ve played well all year,” Malzahn said. “Each week, I think it was just a matter of getting used to Coach (Kevin) Steele and his staff. Offensively, I don’t know if you look at guys that were starting at their position last year but it isn’t many. Obviously we settled in on our quarterback position so I think it’s about getting used to playing together, that experience but we’re still green now. We’re still playing some guys without much experience.
“We haven’t arrived. There is a lot of areas we can improve on. The youth and inexperience and just finding out our identity. Even with the running backs, going into the season you think you have an idea of what a guy will do or what his strength will be but you don’t know until you actually play people. There was a learning curve early. We've got to keep improving. We haven’t arrived. That’s our mindset.”