AUBURN, Ala. — During the season, Auburn normally gets a few practices to prepare for an opponent. During bowl season, though, the number jumps to 8 practice sessions before the Tigers leave for their postseason destination.
Game-planning for the Sugar Bowl matchup against Big 12 champion Oklahoma will come. But first, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and his staff want to use that extra time to progress their young roster.
“What we’re going to do today and the next two days is focus on us more than anything and the development of our young guys,” Malzahn said Wednesday, following Auburn’s first Sugar Bowl practice. “Once we get to Saturday, we’ll go full force on Oklahoma.”
Auburn split its first practice back from break Wednesday into two distinct parts. First, the Tigers went 12 periods with their older players working fundamentals and trying to get them back into practice mode.
Then the Tigers worked closely with the young players, whether they played any in 2016 or if they took a redshirt.
“Let the (young) guys play a little bit,” Malzahn said. “Tomorrow we’ll even do a little more individual with them and just try to develop those guys as best we can. Have our position coaches work with them, which is always good and that’s good about the bowls.
“For bowl practices, you kind of transition. You’re not in a hurry, you’re not in a rush and you can really slow down and teach. That extra time before you get to spring is very critical. So we’ll continue to do that throughout the bowl practice time here, when we’re on campus.”
One young player, true freshman running back Malik Miller, participated fully in practices Wednesday. Miller injured his knee and underwent surgery during the middle of the season.
Miller is healthy enough to play in the Sugar Bowl, but Auburn will keep him sidelined in hopes of getting his year of eligibility back with a medical redshirt.
“He’s got a chance to be a special player, we feel like,” Malzahn said. “He was playing very good football before he got hurt, but he won’t participate in the bowl.”
Auburn will practice Thursday through Saturday before taking Sunday off. The Tigers will have four straight days of practice next week before breaking for the holidays.
Auburn is set to arrive in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 27. The team will practice Dec. 29 and 31 before the bowl game on Jan. 2.
For the next two practices, though, the Tigers will wait on preparing for the highly ranked Sooners. They’re already looking ahead to 2017 and the players who could make a difference down the road.
“You get your guys ready for the bowl, and then early on (what’s) just as important is developing those young guys for the future,” Malzahn said. “So that’s the great thing about having eight practices before you get to the bowl site … So it’s great for us as coaches for the development before we get to spring practice.”