AUBURN, Ala. — It’s hard to forget the heartache Auburn experienced after last season’s four-overtime loss to Arkansas. Well, unless you’re consciously trying to forget, which some Tigers have chosen to do.
“To be honest, I really can’t remember it. Just moving onto the next,” senior defensive lineman Montravius Adams said. “This week, it’s Arkansas again. Really it’s just trying to have the same success we’ve been having the last three games, just try to keep building of what we’ve been doing.”
The same can’t be said for most others in the Auburn community.
Even Gus Malzahn — one to avoid historical conversation — referenced last year’s 54-46 defeat in four overtimes in his introductory statement during the weekly Tuesday press conference. The 2015 game sent Auburn into a downward spiral of sorts with Malzahn calling it an “uphill” battle for the remainder of the season.
The Tigers went from a potential 5-2 record to 4-3. They find themselves in a similar position this week. A win can set the tone for the second half the season. A loss can revert external conversations to what they were following the losses to Clemson and Texas A&M.
“Last year it was (the tipping point). There’s no doubt. It was uphill after that game,” Malzahn said. “A lot of times you don’t know about those pivotal games until the end of the season. Is it an important game? Yeah, it’s an important game because it’s the next SEC game.”
The “every year is a different year” talking point remained. As usual, Malzahn opted not to look too much into last year’s heartbreak and how it might affect the preparation or anticipation for the rematch Saturday.
But, somewhat out of character, Auburn’s head coach didn’t shy away from emotionalizing the loss from 2015.
“When you think about it, it still makes me mad, but that’s last year,” Malzahn said. “You’ve got to figure out a way — that’s history, there’s nothing you can do about it. But yeah, I try not to think about things I can’t control any longer.”
While the outcome is in the past, many of the things the Tigers learned about each other during that contest have carried to this season.
In that four-overtime defeat, Sean White began asserting himself as the future of Auburn’s quarterback position. He secured the start and had one of the best statistical performances of his young career. White completed 19-of-32 passes for 254 yards.
But the real mark of his grit came on the final possession of regulation. Auburn down a field goal, White led a drive with just more than one minute to play that got Daniel Carlson in range for a 41-yard field goal make.
“We even got a penalty and had a 10-second runoff. He hits two big passes to get us in range to kick the field goal. And then, in overtime, we score a little bit here,” Lashlee said Sunday. “So that was kind of, I think, when he grew up in pressure situations. That’s when you knew the moment’s not going to be too big for us.”
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Ultimately, that late-game drive was spoiled by a back-and-forth overtime that ended in an Auburn loss. But it set the stage for a 2016 season in which a greater emphasis was placed on finishing close games.
The success in that department has been somewhat mixed. Auburn fell to Clemson by 6, but the Tigers beat LSU by 5. Entering this year’s Arkansas matchup, Auburn is a double-digit favorite.
But the Tigers will be preparing for this SEC West matchup with the expectation of another down-to-the-wire game.
“During the summer, Arkansas is definitely one of the games we focused on as a team,” senior offensive lineman Alex Kozan said. “A lot of those games actually — Georgia, Ole Miss, all those games we lost by one score, Mississippi State too. That was kind of one of our messages during the summer is to finish games like that.”