Outback Bowl preview: Auburn goes for 10-win season vs. 10-win Minnesota

Outback Bowl preview: Auburn goes for 10-win season vs. 10-win Minnesota
Cord Sandberg (24) practices with the Auburn Tigers in preparation for the Outback Bowl. (Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics)

Auburn is going into its New Year’s Day Outback Bowl meeting with CFP No. 18 Minnesota with a simple mantra: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“You want to have a decent time and all that, but, man, we’re going there to win,” coach Gus Malzahn of the CFP No. 12 Tigers said of the noon contest with the Golden Gophers at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium on ESPN.  “It’s a business trip once we get on location. Our guys really responded well, and we’ve also been talking about playing our best game. We need to play our best football game of the year in this bowl game. We did that last year.”

Auburn obliterated Purdue 63-14 last season in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.

“Really that’s the same mindset and our seniors are really leading that charge,” Malzahn said. “We won’t change up anything from what we did last year.”

The Auburn coach said he’s familiar with his Wednesday opponent, having caught their showings on his iPad during his season travels.

“I already know them pretty good,” he said. “They’re good. They’re a good team. What stands out is I think they’re a complete team. I think they’re one of the best defenses statistically in the country.

“Offensively, what have they got? Two 1,000-yard receivers? A 1,000-yard rusher? I think the only other team that has that is LSU,” Malzahn said, comparing his opponent with the SEC champs who have a date with Clemson in the national championship game. “They (Minnesota) won 10 games. They’re 10-2 and they were ranked in the top 10 there for a while, so you know they’re a really good football team.”

Compliments have flowed in both directions in advance of this contest in Tampa. Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck calls Malzahn one of the brightest offensive minds in all of college football.

“I probably shouldn’t even tell him this, but we’ve watched a lot of the bowl games he’s coached in,” Fleck said. “What makes him really special is you can watch the tendencies you have during the season, but when coach Malzahn has three weeks to prepare for you, 80 percent of what you basically just saw doesn’t exist anymore. It’s something else, and it’s even better.

“That’s what makes him really good. He’s got tremendous football players, tremendous young people.”

Fleck was impressed with the offense of 9-3 Auburn, especially the Tiger running attack.

“They’re so creative,” he said.  “They’re pulling people left and right. They’re coming from all angles, different formations. It’s hard to be able to say they have tendencies out of this formation because he does such a great job of changing the formations, changing the motions, changing personnel groupings and always keeping you off balance that way.”

Malzahn said the Minnesota defense is “really unique, a little bit different than what we’re used to seeing. When you look at them defensively, what they do, they know their answers. They’re really good. They play extremely hard.

“Offensively they get the ball to their best players and they figure out ways to get them in one-on-one situations,” the Auburn coach continued, citing Minnesota’s huge 31-26 win over Penn State. “They played one of their best games, so they’re not scared away from the big moment.”

As it has all season, the Auburn defensive line will be anchored by Derrick Brown, who’s playing rather than protecting himself for the NFL draft. That, Malzahn said, should surprise no one.

“He’s determined and he’s a leader,” the Tigers coach said. “When your leader does that, the rest of the guys are ready to go. It’s pretty inspiring for his teammates, I’ll tell you that. It says a lot about him, but it didn’t surprise me. That’s who he is.”

Malzahn said Brown should have been prominent in Heisman Trophy discussions.

“He’s actually one the best players to come through Auburn since I’ve been here,” the coach said. “He had a dominant season. Not a good season, a dominant season, and we played an unbelievable schedule. Every time we played a big game, he played his best ball.

“And Marlon Davidson, too. I think he’s right in that same discussion. He had a great season, too, and I think he’s one of the best players in the country. We’re fortunate enough to have those two guys leading us.”

Related Stories