By going for the knockout punch, gutsy Gus Malzahn proved he has changed
There’s a photo of Gus Malzahn, just seconds after Bo Nix threw the game-winning touchdown to Seth Williams to give Auburn a 27-21 win over Oregon on Saturday, where the coach is jumping up and sort of colliding hip-to-hip with offensive tackle Jack Driscoll. I spotted it on Twitter on Sunday morning and, the more I kept on staring at it, grew even more amazed at what had happened 12 or so hours before.
Malzahn had gone full Les Miles, tempting fate with a true freshman instead of taking the conservative — and maybe most sensible — route of running the ball one more time to line up for a field goal attempt that would have given Auburn the lead as well. Yet, in a moment that might be the start of Malzahn regaining his form as a gambler, he threw all notions out the window and said the heck to them.
This wouldn’t have happened in past years. I’m certain that everyone who has followed Auburn in the Malzahn era was just waiting for Anders Carlson to trot out with 4 or 5 seconds left and try to nail a walk-off field goal. I mean, that is what happened with Malzahn as the offensive coordinator the last time the Tigers battled the Ducks, even if Cam Newton tried to sneak it in on the play before the Wes Byrum winner to try and be the hero.
Is this the new Malzahn that we were hearing about all offseason?
Much has been written and discussed, including by yours truly, about if we would really see a different Gus when the season started. There was every reason for him to settle for a field goal — good kicker, no timeouts left, young QB struggling in first game — but none of that mattered.
It reminded me of a brutal loss for the Tigers in 2007 when LSU — yep, coached by Miles — heaved a pass from Matt Flynn to to Demetrius Byrd that, if not caught, would have likely ended with the clock running out before the Bayou Bengals could even attempt a field goal. Of course, if Williams got tackled last night at the 1, there would have been less than a smidgen of a chance that the Tigers could get Carlson out in time. In that way, this call — this gutsy call — was fortunate. For a guy already on the hot seat, mismanaging the clock when you were in good position would have been almost too much to overcome.
Yet there he was, giving Nix the chance to make his mark in his first college game, throwing caution to the wind in a season where every little call and decision will be held under a microscope. Maybe this is Malzahn saying, “I’m either going to be here for a long time, or I will be out this season, but either way, I’m doing it my own darn way.”
And don’t look past the fact that Nix was still in the game in the first place. In recent years, after struggling, Malzahn might have replaced Nix with Joey Gatewood to try to give the offense a boost. Yet despite 2 interceptions, Malzahn stuck with the man that he chosen to lead the Tigers.
In the past, there might have been someone in his ear telling him, or at least advising him, to play it safe and not take risk. Nix was 12-for-30 before that final throw. In the past, Malzahn might have second-guessed himself. In the past …. well, I’m not sure this play ever sees the light of day.
Yet the Tigers, and the new Malzahn, the one who listens to rap music and lifts weights and shares his heart, are 1-0. The past doesn’t matter. The present does. And Malzahn, with his job on the line, is showing no signs of fear.
This Malzahn is dangerous.