AUBURN, Ala. — For the first time in the first two months of the season, Auburn football is away from the field on this game-day Saturday.
The Tigers needed a break after a 6-2 start that included impressive highs and a pair of frustrating losses in eight consecutive weeks. Auburn will face a November gauntlet of Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama after a week of rest and extra preparation.
“You can see some deficiencies and you can see some strengths, and you can get a really good plan moving forward,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said last Saturday after the Tigers’ rout of Arkansas. “I think we’ve been pretty good after bye weeks the last few years, and we need to do the same thing.”
Malzahn is right. In his tenure, Auburn has done well after those much-needed bye weeks. In his first four seasons, Malzahn is 6-0 in the games immediately after byes.
|2013||Ole Miss||W, 30-22|
|2014||Mississippi State||W, 20-14|
|2014||South Carolina||W, 42-35|
Auburn will face four consecutive games after the current off week, and its success in the post-bye has consistently rolled into nice streaks.
In the four sets of four straight games Auburn has played after bye weeks under Malzahn, the Tigers are 12-4. (Auburn had extra bye weeks in 2013 and 2014.) That’s an average of 3-1, which is a record Auburn would most likely take after three straight years of losing to Georgia and Alabama.
|2013||W, 30-22 vs. Miss||W, 62-3 vs. WCU||W, 45-41 at A&M||W, 45-10 vs. FAU|
|2014||W, 20-14 at KSU||W, 45-17 vs. LT||W, 41-7 vs. LSU||L, 38-23 at MSU|
|2015||W, 30-27 at UK||L, 54-46 at ARK||L, 27-19 vs. Miss||W, 26-10 at A&M|
|2016||W, 56-3 vs. Ark||W, 40-29 at Miss||W, 23-16 vs. VU||L, 13-7 at UGA|
If Auburn can continue its post-bye week mojo into 2017, it’ll come at the ideal spot. Auburn has faced only two ranked teams — Clemson and LSU — all season. Georgia and Alabama definitely will be ranked when they come to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Texas A&M could jump into the Top 25 with a win against Mississippi State on Saturday.
“I think this bye week comes at a great time for us,” Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham said. “Obviously, it gives us some time to heal up a little bit as a team and to reflect on the first eight games and get ready for A&M and get ready for this final stretch.”
Healing will be crucial for Auburn during this time. Auburn left Arkansas with several injury concerns — including safety Tray Matthews, cornerback Javaris Davis, center Casey Dunn and left guard Mike Horton.
Other Tigers, such as running back Kamryn Pettway, cornerback Carlton Davis and defensive end Marlon Davidson, have played through pain. They’ll also benefit from an extra week away from action.
“When we have the whole team, we play like a million bucks,” safety Daniel Thomas said.
Auburn will look to bring the riches of a healed-up team to College Station next Saturday. Texas A&M hasn’t had many impressive wins, but it played Alabama closer than anyone this season and is 3-1 in the SEC.
That threat will keep Auburn from looking ahead to the all-important rivalry showdowns against Georgia and Alabama.
“We’ve got a big stretch here at the end, but we’re gonna take it week by week, starting with A&M,” Stidham said. “Obviously, A&M is a really good football team, so we’re gonna have to go down there and fight our butt off and hopefully get a win and do everything we can to keep progressing forward, because there’s still a lot of potential on this team. We’re starting to really head in the right direction.”
Auburn played well last Saturday against Arkansas and cruised into an important bye week with some momentum. If the Tigers can keep it up and continue their hot streaks after off dates, they could contend down the stretch.
“We played good football [at Arkansas], so we can build upon this,” Malzahn said. “I think we’re in a good spot to finish this thing strong.”