Auburn uses open week to focus on itself

Auburn will sit at home this weekend and watch the rest of the SEC go to work. The Tigers are the only team in the conference who are off Saturday, and that’s just fine with them. It gives them an extra week to heal and prepare for No. 1 Alabama in what is quickly becoming the most talked-about Iron Bowl in history.

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has been on the other side of the rivalry plenty of times, but this is his first season experiencing it from the Plains.

“It’s Auburn and Alabama,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t get much better. It’s fun to be involved in the rivalry. It was then. It is now. I’m real excited about it.”

With a game of such magnitude, it’s hard not to start looking ahead. Alabama likely will begin preparation for Auburn this week with Chattanooga on Saturday, but don’t ask Nick Saban to admit that. Meanwhile, Auburn has a full two weeks to start prepping for the Crimson Tide, but this week has been spent more on fixing its own problems.

“This week is really cleaning up ourselves and trying to get better at what we do,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “At the same time, we are peeking ahead. As coaches, we’re definitely doing that. But we’re really trying to worry a little bit more about ourselves at this point and improve on what we do.”

The Tigers have won seven straight games, including a dramatic victory over Georgia last weekend, but the Bulldogs uncovered a lot of Auburn’s flaws.

“If you look at the fourth quarter, we were up by 20 points and we had to have a long pass to win the game,” Malzahn said. “There were a lot of teaching moments in that fourth quarter that we’ve got to improve on moving forward.”

In that final quarter, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray torched the Tigers’ defense, throwing for 160 yards and two touchdowns. He orchestrated three long scoring drives in the last 12 minutes of the game.

“We all, as a team, had a breakdown here or there that led to some drives,” Johnson said. “Our players know that we’ve got to continue to improve to have any chance to beat Alabama.”

The offense wasn’t perfect, either. Nick Marshall and the Tigers looked unstoppable through the first three quarters, but they could manage only two first downs in the fourth quarter.

“We definitely need to work on our communication,” fullback Jay Prosch said. “There are times in the games when we maybe had some calls mixed up, some timing issues and stuff like that. I would say pre-snap type things, alignments, making sure people know exactly what they’re doing and how they need to do it.

“We’re still working on Bama a little bit, but we’re mainly trying to get ourselves right.”

After a full week of practice, the players will get the next two days off to recharge their batteries, but beginning Sunday, it’s time to go to work and start focusing on Alabama.