AUBURN, Ala. -- Mississippi State was a make-or-break game for Auburn. Despite two wins to start the season, nobody knew what to expect from the Tigers. They still hadn’t won an SEC game since 2011, but were they ready to put that streak behind them? Had they recovered from last year? Was it really a new day?
The players responded. Auburn rallied to win Saturday, 24-20, ending its 10-game conference losing streak. A loss could’ve been crippling, but instead the Tigers have taken another step to restoring the program for both the fans and the players.
“It’s like a chip off our shoulder,” cornerback Ryan White said. “We haven’t made it yet, but it feels good to get that notch down. We’re already at the amount of wins we had last year, and it just feels good to be on the right track and 3-0.”
“I think some people weren’t buying into Auburn, but I think after (Saturday), people are taking notice,” added defensive end Dee Ford.
Through three games, there’s an uncanny resemblance to the 2010 season. With a junior college quarterback leading the way, Auburn blew out Arkansas State early in the year and followed it up with a close victory over Mississippi State the very next week. Sound familiar?
In 2010, the Tigers won their first three games en route to an undefeated season and a national championship, but coach Gus Malzahn was quick to point out that this year’s team still has a long ways to go to before it can be compared to that team.
“You know, that team was a special veteran group and we’re not anywhere close to being veteran,” he said. “We’re still a work in the progress, but it’s a good progress. I really like where were as a team. We’re going to have the chance to improve each game, and I think our young guys will grow up and get better.”
The younger players will have to grow up quickly this weekend with a trip to Baton Rouge, La., a place where Auburn hasn’t won since 1999. The players know it will take a near-perfect performance if they expect to knock off No. 6 LSU on the road.
“LSU has a pretty awesome stadium to play in,” kicker Cody Parkey said. “They get real loud. I’m a senior, so I’ve played there before. We’re just going to have to execute. There isn’t any room for mistakes.”
Win or lose Saturday, it’s clear the Auburn football program has still taken a step forward from last year. When dealt with adversity against Mississippi State, the team responded. They didn’t give up late in the game. They fought back and won.
Malzahn understands how important a victory like that can be moving forward.
“We beat a good team tonight,” he said after the game. “I think it does something for our whole team. I think it gives you a shot in the arm. They know they can do it, and they found a way to do it at home. I thought that was huge.”
This team might not be the 2010 team, but it proved it's also not last season's team.