It was only a few weeks ago that many Auburn fans were calling for Gus Malzahn’s head after the team lost an embarrassing home game to a Tennessee program that had not won a league game in nearly 700 days. Things could have seriously went sideways for the Tigers following that 30-24 result on the Plains, but instead of giving up, Auburn went another direction.
Coming off back-to-back SEC wins, there is a renewed sense of faith in Malzahn’s program. While the Tigers may be a big underdog entering the road trip this weekend in Athens, if Auburn finds a way to knock off Georgia, Malzahn could even start to hear his name mentioned for SEC Coach of the Year honors.
While ESPN College GameDay host Kirk Herbstreit wasn’t ready to go that far, he did explain why some Auburn fans need to ‘recognize and appreciate’ the coaching job Malzahn has done this season on The Plains. The college football analyst made these comments on his latest ESPN CFB podcast, “Herbstreit & Fitzsimmons,” which was released this week.
“I get it, losing to Tennessee at home is not great. Going to Starkville and losing, and losing in the fashion they did. Their offense has been a work in progress,” Herbstreit said on the podcast. “I’ll tell you what man, when you have aspirations of winning the SEC and going to a Playoff and you get off to a 4-1 start and things are still okay, then you lose two in a row and those dreams are gone. You are sitting there at 4-3 and you still have five games to play and you are dealing with outside noise, ‘Gus Malzahn is on the hot seat’ and you turn around and go to Oxford and win 31-16 and you turn around and win at home and beat a top 20 A&M team — those are coaching moments that don’t get recognized that fans need to appreciate.
“It’s easy for fans to see 8-0, 9-1 and say that’s a great job. I love when a team is 4-3 and he could lose his team and instead, they find a way to dig back in and come back out swinging. I’m more impressed with that from a coach then when you come out and run the table. I know that’s a hard thing to do but I’ve seen so many teams in college football have these big goals and then they are gone and the team gets senioritis and they start thinking about the NFL or other things and they start 4-3 and they finish 5-7. Auburn deserves a lot of credit. Gus Malzahn deserves a lot of credit for turning this thing around.”
While Herbie recognizes and appreciates the job that has been done over the previous three weeks done by Malzahn and his coaching staff, Auburn’s two biggest games of the year remain on schedule. How will Malzahn’s critics view him if he drops them both, particularly if he gets blown out in each and finishes with a 7-5 record?
That’s not something the GameDay host touched on but he was willing to make his prediction for the upcoming rivalry game between Auburn and Georgia.
“(Auburn) gets a Georgia team that finally goes home between the hedges after being on the road and winning some big games,” Herbstreit continued on the podcast. “These have been big games for Georgia. This is a rivalry, I get it, I respect it, I understand that but right now, Georgia, you could make the case, is playing their best football. Jake Fromm is really doing a nice job but they have to be able to compartmentalize the emotion and go out and execute. They played LSU in Death Valley, had a bye week, played Florida in Jacksonville then they went to Lexington. It’s been a while since they have been home.
“I think being at home will be the difference in this game… Emotions, Auburn’s grit and toughness and Jarrett Stidham making some big plays keep them around but over the course of 60 minutes, Georgia and Fromm will make enough plays to pull away, in my opinion, in a rivalry game.”
Don’t be surprised if all the goodwill Malzahn has earned by beating Ole Miss and Texas A&M disappears if he drops both the Georgia and Alabama games by a large margin. That just seems to be the way it is when you coach the team on the Plains.