KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The mark of a good football team is not just winning, but winning on the road.
Auburn took care of business on Saturday, beating a dangerous Tennessee team in Knoxville. The 55-23 victory was the team’s third straight triumph away from home, but the Tigers still remember their first road trip of the season and the quarter that continues to haunt them to this day.
Auburn started the season 3-0 and looked to have its confidence back. But that quickly changed when the Tigers arrived in Death Valley for a road test with LSU. They fumbled on each of their first two possessions, and LSU capitalized. Before the players ever broke a sweat, Auburn was down 14-0 in one of the most hostile environments in college football.
“The first quarter we were on the verge of being terrible against LSU, and I think everybody saw that,” head coach Gus Malzahn said.
But once the initial storm passed, the Tigers played pretty good football and actually outscored LSU in the second half. Though they lost that game, they learned from it. They tasted defeat on the road, and since that point, they have yet to leave a visiting locker room without celebrating a victory, picking up wins at Texas A&M, Arkansas and most recently Tennessee.
“Our first road game, we turned the ball over,” defensive back Robenson Therezie said. “We understand [it's important] not turning the ball over, and just those little things that we have to fix in order to win a road game because we know they’ve got all the momentum, all their fans making noise and everything.
“At the same time, we’ve just got each other, and we just have to focus on the little things -- not turning the ball over, playing good defense -- just to win.”
The good news is Auburn will not play in a visiting stadium until next season. The bad news is the Tigers still have two Top 25 teams on their schedule. Still, the players are elated to return home for the team’s last two regular-season games.
“It’s very exciting,” cornerback Chris Davis said. “I told them before we went out, ‘This is the last road game, let’s take advantage of it.’ We’ve got two more tough games at home that we end with, so for this to be the last road game, it’s a good road win for us.”
And Auburn will have no trouble getting up for its last two home games. On Saturday, the Tigers host No. 25 Georgia, and on Nov. 30, No. 1 Alabama comes to town in what has turned out to be a much-anticipated Iron Bowl.
“That’s very exciting for us with Georgia next week, then you get a bye week, and then come in with Alabama,” running back Corey Grant said. “To finally be done with the road games and be home for big games is something to look forward to.”
“Now it’s time to turn up in Jordan-Hare Stadium,” Therezie said. “It feels good.”
There’s a lot at stake for Auburn in these last two regular-season games. Win both and the Tigers are headed to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. A loss could take them out of contention for a BCS bowl game.
Malzahn knows it will be a challenge, but he’ll have his team ready.
“Anytime you're playing good teams, you have to play your best football,” he said. “We talked about improvement in each practice and each game, and I feel like for the most part we've done that all season. We're going to have to continue to do that because you're talking about two of the better teams in all of college football.”