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Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn after 52-20 win at Arkansas. Matthew Stevens

AUBURN – Just because Auburn isn’t playing a football game Saturday doesn’t mean they’re not preparing themselves.

Just a few minutes after the 52-20 victory over Arkansas last Saturday night Gus Malzahn knew he had a bye week to look forward to but for the Tigers' fifth-year head coach, it wasn’t a week-long vacation. Malzahn and his staff have been intensely preparing a game plan in simulation for how they would go about attempting to beat the Auburn Tigers. Welcome to Malzahn’s week of self evaluation.

“It’s like you’re almost reading my mind and my thoughts,” Malzahn said about if he’ll treat the week without an upcoming opponent with self-evaluation. “You get a chance from a coach’s standpoint to catch your breath, really evaluate things and that really helps. A lot of times if you just go back and watch everything.”

Malzahn has said one priority to his self-evaluation is to overlook the philosophies in their offensive play-calling. Tendencies that got No. 19 Auburn (6-2, 4-1 in Southeastern Conference) clipped in the second half at LSU in a bitterly disappointing 27-23 loss but also tendencies that allowed them to beat four SEC opponents by at least 20 points.

“You can see some deficiencies and you can see some strengths and you can get a really good plan moving forward,” Malzahn said. “I think we’ve been pretty good after bye weeks the last few years and we need to do the same thing.”




Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn's press conference after Saturday's 27-23 loss at LSU in which the Tigers blew a 20-point halftime lead. Duane Rankin/Montgomery Advertiser

Malzahn is not misremembering any historical trends following an off week as Auburn is 6-0 under him following an off week and used the bye week following the loss at LSU as the turning point for a dramatic push to the SEC championship and a berth in the January 2014 BCS title game.

“(The bye week) is going to give a chance to heal up. That’s really going to be our priority next week,” Malzahn said. “We’ve played good football tonight (against Arkansas) so we can build upon this. I think we’re in a good spot to finish this thing strong.”

One tendency that Malzahn and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey will look to investigate is why the Tigers are 110th in the nation in pass attempts on first down despite trying to find balance in Lindsey’s new RPO offensive scheme.

“I think (Jarrett Stidham’s) completion percentage is really high,” Lindsey said about his sophomore quarterback. “I think there's times where he looks back and says you know what, I wish I'd thrown that ball out there or whatever. That's part of it. Part of the learning process. But I like his progress."

In order for Auburn, which is third in the SEC in scoring offense, to properly prepare for its toughest stretch that included a trip to Texas A&M followed by home games against No. 3 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama, Malzahn believes Auburn must attempt to reinvent new concepts to its offense.

“I think you use practice to improve us and improve on things we need to get better with fundamentally, technique and so forth,” Lindsey said. “And also a little bit, getting ready, getting a head start on Texas A&M, but I think we need to focus on ourselves for sure the next few days.”

Auburn’s defensive coaches have simply attempted to get several missing starters back from injury in order to continue to perpetuate one of the best stretches of defensive play in the program’s last five years. Throughout the last few weeks, Auburn has been without safety Tray Matthews and linebacker Tre’ Williams while also handling nagging injuries to defensive lineman Marlon Davidson and cornerback Carlton Davis.

Despite the injuries Auburn maintains its position as top-four status in the SEC in scoring defense, rushing defense, total defense and turnovers earned.

“We can complain and sit there and 'woe is me' that we've had guys with injuries,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “We've just had to rotate guys and play at different times and different situations that wasn't the normal rotation.”




Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham after 52-20 win at Arkansas. Matthew Stevens

After eight straight weeks of football, you can excuse the Auburn Tigers players and coaches if they’re willing to be a little selfish and focus on themselves this week.

“It’s kind of a culture that has been developed in that room,” Steele said. “The culture now about maintaining a standard is so high and the expectations that each man is held accountable and responsible by each other to get their job done. That’s kind of what’s happened and needs to continue.”