Auburn, Ala.--For the Auburn Tigers the Sugar Bowl is an opportunity to finish off what has been and up and down season on a very high note. Facing Big 12 Champion Oklahoma (10-2), Coach Gus Malzahn said it’s an opportunity to put a very positive bow on the season against a very good team.
“We’ll definitely be motivated,” AU's head football coach said after the pairings were announced on Sunday. “We’re playing one of the top teams in the country.
"Our team is extremely excited to be playing in a game like the Sugar Bowl. That’s a very big deal and our players understand that. We’ve got very strong leadership on this team. We’ll be ready to play and we’ll have to be ready to play.
“We started out and had a tough way the first couple of games, but I’m very proud of the way our team responded," Malzahn added. "We came back strong and finished strong, and then at the end had a couple of key injuries. We’re tickled to death to be playing in the Sugar Bowl.”
A big key for the Tigers will be the health of the team heading into the Sugar Bowl. Playing without starting quarterback Sean White and senior defensive back Josh Holsey in the Iron Bowl and dealing with injuries to running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson as well as safety Johnathan Ford, Malzahn said right now everything looks very promising for his team heading into bowl practices beginning Dec. 14.
“I feel pretty certain we'll be close to 100 percent,” Malzahn said. “We had some key injuries to impact players late in the season that really hurt us. I feel pretty confident now that 30 days away or whatever, we'll have everybody close to 100 percent. We were playing very good football during that stretch run as we were growing and our impact players were healthy.”
That was particularly the case on offense when White and Pettway had the Tigers rolling during the six-game winning streak. With the need for an improved offense in the bowl game, Malzahn said having them back and playing well is especially important for his team.
“Those two guys were playing at such a high level when we were making that stretch run,” Malzahn said. “Sean was very efficient. I think he was one of the conference leaders as far as completions, quarterback ratings and everything that went with it. Of course, Kamryn Pettway was really emerging as one of better offensive players in our league.
“When Sean got hurt late in the game against Ole Miss, we just never really recovered. Pettway late in the game against Vanderbilt and he was not even close to 100 percent last game. Feeling very confident that they'll be close to 100 percent by the time we play Oklahoma. We were playing very good football at that point. I feel like we can have a chance to do the same thing.”