Gus Malzahn's preseason jab all the motivation Alabama's defense needs

Will Gus Malzahn's preseason comments about Alabama come back to haunt him? Mark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Gus Malzahn may wear a visor to pay homage to Steve Spurrier, but he is no Head Ball Coach when it comes to delivering verbal jabs. Which is why, back in August, it was so surprising to see Auburn’s notoriously humdrum coach take a shot at Alabama.

In speaking with ESPN.com’s Chris Low, Malzahn said, “We should have put 60 on them,” in reference to Auburn’s 55-44 loss in the 2014 Iron Bowl.

"That was the most disappointing thing, when you have a chance to do something special and don't, and then we gave up all those fourth-quarter points,” he said. "We let them off the hook, but we've got them at home this year."

The Tigers do have the Tide on The Plains this year, but they aren’t exactly expected to win the game, let alone hang 60 on an Alabama defense that ranks No. 1 in nearly every important statistical category in the SEC. Auburn has gone from a preseason playoff favorite to a 6-5 team that is a 13.5-point underdog at home on Saturday.

Oh, how the mighty (and cocky) have fallen.

When asked whether he heard what Malzahn said back in August, Alabama veteran defensive back Jabriel Washington nodded, said, “Yes,” and did his best to leave it at that. It was clear that the comment had stuck with him, though.

He could have returned the jab, but when asked what he thought about it, Washington said, “I mean, I don’t really care what he says.”

While it’s probably best that Washington stayed away from providing any bulletin-board material in return, not all of his teammates were as tight-lipped about their thoughts on Auburn.

Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones was part of a defense that gave up 456 yards and three touchdowns through the air to Auburn, allowing seven completions of 20 or more yards and nine of 19 third-down conversions. But Jones looks at the Auburn receiver corps now without Sammie Coates and Duke Williams and shrugs.

“They’re pretty good players, you know, athletic, fast,” Jones said before turning heel. “I don’t think they’re nothing special, honestly, but we still can’t overlook them.”

It’s not difficult to imagine the “nothing special” part of that quote being pulled out and shown to Auburn wideouts Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray. Around the same time Jones said what he did, Louis tweeted, “Say less.”

But trash talk aside, it is safe to say that this isn’t the same Alabama defense that had to be bailed out in last year’s Iron Bowl. There are no more big egos, according to Jones. Washington said the secondary has “come a long way.”

"It's very different,” said senior linebacker Reggie Ragland. “... It's one of the best feelings I've had in a long time about a team, since my freshman year. These guys, everybody's just communicating. Every time you walk into the locker room you just feel at home and at peace. It ain't no animosity, anything like that. I just feel great about this team, man. If everybody keeps doing their job, we'll be where we want to be at the end of the year."

As for Malzahn, he didn’t have anything but good things to say in regard to Alabama’s defense, arguing that the Tide defensive line was “probably the best front in college football.”

Instead of talking about how they should have scored more in last year’s game, the focus for Malzahn was on who exactly he’ll start at quarterback against the Tide and whether he’ll reach into his bag of trick plays on Saturday.

It was a different tone than nearly four months ago when he made those eye-raising comments, but Auburn is a different football team now with different expectations.

While the Tigers moved on, it's fair to wonder if Alabama hasn’t. If motivation has anything to do with the outcome, then the Tide defense has that 60-point bulletin to get them prepared to show just how far they’ve come since last year.