AUBURN – Less than a day after a gut-wrenching loss at Florida, and the somber travel back from The Swamp to the Plains, Auburn walked back out on its practice field Sunday behind closed doors focused on figuring it out.
There’s a lot to learn and plenty of work left to do, especially looking down the long road ahead of the Tigers after this week’s open date.
But with the challenge comes opportunity.
With nearly 14 days to regroup, reflect and respond, Auburn is bent on running back out of the tunnel again for the second half of the season ready to make 2019 a special season.
“We have a week off, and it’s a much-needed week off,” head coach Gus Malzahn said Sunday after getting back to Auburn.
At the halfway point of his seventh season at Auburn, his Tigers are 5-1 and 2-1 in the SEC, down to the No. 12 in the rankings after the 24-13 loss to undefeated Florida. Auburn is off this week before it returns to the field at Arkansas on Oct. 19.
“I think the timing right now is good,” Malzahn said. “We’re going to self-evaluate. We’re going to get a head start on our next opponent, and get healthier, then work on our improving our execution this next week.”
With six games down and six to go in the regular season, Malzahn said he took a rare step back to look at the big picture with his team.
Here’s that big picture: Auburn’s 5-1 with wins against two ranked teams away from home, and with a disappointing loss last Saturday to a Top 10 team against one of college football’s most feared home-field advantages.
If Auburn can match that production and go 5-1 down the stretch, the Tigers could be on their way to the SEC Championship Game to play for a chance at the playoffs. If they go 6-0, they will be.
Yes, Auburn still controls its destiny in the SEC West, with games against LSU, Georgia and Alabama ahead.
But, in those opponents, there lies the other side of that big picture. Auburn’s offense looked shaken and unlike itself in The Swamp. It won’t be much easier in Death Valley. After a road game at Arkansas, Auburn plays No. 5 LSU on Oct. 26 in dreaded Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
Auburn later plays No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia at home.
“It’s always hard coming back from a loss,” sophomore wide receiver Seth Williams said Saturday outside the stadium, as the sun set over Florida. “But we’ve got a bye week coming up and we’re going to practice and fix anything that we need fixing and come back and get ready for Arkansas.”
Auburn and Arkansas will kick off at 11 a.m. on Oct. 19 in Fayetteville, Ark.
“I think right now when you’re at the halfway point and you have an off week, I think it’s always good to evaluate the first half and see what you have ahead of you the second half,” Malzahn said. But, he said, the team still has its sights set on a win at Arkansas.
“This week will give us a chance to get a head start on our next game, too, which we’ve always done during off weeks and we’ll continue to have that same routine that we’ve had in the past as far as off weeks.
“ In the past we’ve done fairly well when we’ve done that. We will definitely be focused on one game at a time, not looking ahead, not taking anything for granted as far as that goes.”