Why Auburn believes it can ‘consistently’ beat Alabama while other teams mostly ‘hope’ to – AL.com
Gus Malzahn didn’t bury the lede. Auburn’s head coach wasted no time in cutting to the chase during his postgame press conference following Auburn’s wild 48-45 win against Alabama.
After noting how proud he was of his team for its win and its season-long performance against the nation’s toughest schedule, Malzahn made his most noteworthy comment of his opening statement.
“Going into this game, we felt like we had the better team,” Malzahn said.
Some would be quick to dismiss that as coach-speak after the fact but speaking to Auburn players after they unseated their in-state rivals and prevented Alabama from a sixth straight College Football Playoff berth, it was clear this is more than just some bravado from Malzahn. It’s a belief that has been instilled in his team over an extended period of time.
“It’s just a culture thing,” freshman quarterback Bo Nix said. “I feel like Auburn and just a few other teams, we’re the only ones that can consistently play with them. That’s something to be said for this school. It’s a mindset going in. It’s a rivalry. We just come to play every time we play them.”
That much, at least, is evident when looking at Auburn’s track record against Alabama since Malzahn took over as head coach. Since the start of the 2013 season, Alabama is 88-10, winning 89.8 percent of its games, with 30 percent of those losses coming at the hands of Auburn.
The Tigers are the only team during that seven-year span with three wins over the Tide, while only two others have multiple wins: Clemson (in 2018 and 2016) and Ole Miss (2014 and 2015). In fact, Malzahn is just the second active head coach with three wins against Saban’s modern day dynasty at Alabama, joining current Kansas coach Les Miles, who defeated the Tide in three of Saban’s first five seasons in Tuscaloosa (2007, 2010 and 2011).
“You know, he’s a great coach,” Malzahn said of Saban. “Everybody knows that, but this is Auburn and they’re Alabama. This is the best rivalry in college football. It’s not about me. It’s about our players. Our players believe they can beat them. All the other teams for the most part hope.”
That’s at the core of this belief among those in Auburn’s program. Though Alabama has had a run under Saban that’s unparalleled in modern day college football, Auburn has been able to consistently compete against its cross-state rival since Malzahn’s arrival, going 3-4 against the Tide over the last seven seasons.
As senior safety Jeremiah Dinson — who has been part of two of those Iron Bowl wins for Auburn — put it, plenty of other teams lose the mental battle with Alabama before even stepping between the lines.
“Everybody wants to play the logo; we’re not into playing the logo,” Dinson said. “You know what I’m saying? They put their pants on the same way we put our pants on, to be honest with you. That’s our rivalry. We know how to beat them. We beat them twice in my span here, so I got a little bit of bragging rights, but that’s the biggest thing: When a lot of other opponents play Alabama, they already lost. Like I said, it’s a mindset. They go in already defeated.
“We know that we’re their best matchup. We’re something they’re going to see every year. We know how to beat them.”
Auburn proved that again Saturday, when it won an instant classic Iron Bowl that will go down as one of the most memorable chapters of the longstanding rivalry. There were 10 lead changes, three ties, 11 combined touchdowns, four field goals of at least 40 yards (including one as time expired in the first half), two pick-sixes, a kickoff return for a touchdown, a game-sealing penalty on a trick formation and another storming of the field by Auburn’s crazed fans.
As Malzahn and defensive coordinator billed it to the team throughout the week, it was a 15-round heavyweight bout for the ages — even if the stakes weren’t as high as some of the other recent meetings between the two teams.
“Oh, it was definitely four quarters, 60 minutes,” defensive tackle Derrick Brown said. “You line up every single play, and you’ve got to play them…. It’s just the fight, every single time at the snap of the ball.”
In a rivalry that spans beyond the annual meeting in the teams’ regular-season finale, Auburn knows it must compete with Alabama day in and day out year-round. Given the number of players from the state who make up Auburn’s roster, there’s a deep-seated understanding of what the rivalry means—and that competing with Alabama means more than just winning a game in late November.
As several players put it Saturday, it’s a mindset, and the Tigers firmly believe they shouldn’t just be able to compete with the Tide, but that they should beat them every year while other teams merely “hope” to upset Saban’s program.
Why is that?
“Oh, because we’re Auburn and they’re Alabama,” running back Shaun Shivers said, “and we’re better.”
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.
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