AUBURN, Ala. -- Gus Malzahn looked almost unrecognizable Saturday.
In arguably the most important game of his coaching career -- the losing coach literally got fired the next day -- Malzahn ditched the visor he wears every game and went with a hat instead.
Was it a superstitious thing? Was he trying to match his counterpart Les Miles?
“My daughters said something about me wearing a visor and needing to put on a hat because I’m going bald,” Malzahn said after the game. “So I’m going to wear a hat from here on out.”
The new look must have worked as Malzahn’s Auburn team beat LSU, 18-13, thanks to an official review and a reversal on the game’s final play. The Tigers avoided falling to 1-3 and now they have some momentum heading into the month of October.
But the hat wasn’t the only change for Malzahn on Saturday. The fourth-year head coach also turned over the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee for the first time this season. Malzahn wasn’t at the line of scrimmage on every snap like he had been the previous three games. He rarely joined in when the offense huddled together on the sideline.
“I have been really leaning towards that for about two weeks now,” Malzahn said. “I turned it over to him and I thought he did a fantastic job. I need to be the head coach and that’s what I am going to be. I am looking forward to Rhett building this offense.”
With Lashlee running the show, the Auburn offense racked up 388 total yards against LSU. There was balance with 234 yards passing to 154 yards rushing. The Tigers were 8-of-19 on third down and won the time-of-possession battle. And they even had five explosive plays, or plays of 20 yards or more, an area where they have struggled in the past.
Quarterback Sean White looked more comfortable with Lashlee calling the plays as he went 19-of-26 for 234 yards with no interceptions.
“[Lashlee] did a great job,” White said after the game. “I’m comfortable with whoever calls the plays. They are both, in my opinion, very good coaches. It doesn’t matter to me. I think they’re both really talented playcallers. I’m comfortable with either one.”
The only complaint would have been Auburn’s red zone production. The Tigers were 5-of-6 when they got in the red zone, but all five successful chances were field goals rather than touchdowns. They failed to get in the end zone, and it nearly cost them at the end of the game.
“We need to score more touchdowns," Malzahn said. "That’s it. When we have opportunities to catch them, we’ve got to catch them. And when you have opportunities to run it in, you’ve got to run it in. That will be something moving forward. I’m not looking at it right now. I’m going to enjoy this one. But that’s something we are definitely going to have to improve on.”
The switch to Lashlee wasn't just a one-game experiment, though. The plan all along, regardless of Saturday's outcome, was for Lashlee to call the plays for the remainder of the season.
“I’m going to be the head coach,” Malzahn said. “I’m going to be meeting with the players and doing the things that I need to do. I’ve got a lot of confidence in our offensive staff, a lot of confidence in our defensive staff, so I feel pretty good about that right now.”
Maybe it's the change Auburn needed. Between Malzahn's hat and his decision to give up calling the plays, he's 1-0 with the new look.