Auburn ahead of rebuilding schedule

AUBURN, Ala. -- Before Saturday’s game, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said that this year’s Auburn team reminded him a lot of his own team from a year ago. The Tigers were coming off a dismal season, just like what Freeze encountered when he arrived in Oxford, and they turned to a new coach, Gus Malzahn, to right the ship.

“To watch them play, it’s eerily similar to what we were going through last year, and there’s no question that they’re getting better each week,” Freeze said.

For the Tigers, it appears they might be slightly ahead of what Freeze faced with the Rebels. At the very least they were better on Saturday night. Auburn defeated No. 24 Ole Miss, 30-22, handing the Rebels their second consecutive loss after a 3-0 start to the season.

Granted, the game was at Jordan-Hare Stadium with Auburn was coming off a bye while the Rebels had to play at Alabama the week prior, but it was still a win over a top-25 team.

“We talked about getting better each week,” Malzahn said. “We knew we were going to have to play better than we did against LSU to have a chance to beat them, and we did. There were some mistakes that we can still improve, a few turnovers we have to correct, but our defense picked us up and we beat a good team.”

In Freeze’s inaugural season, Ole Miss finished 7-6 and won their bowl game, but the Rebels were 0-4 against top 25 teams.

Perhaps Malzahn is ahead of schedule in his rebuilding efforts. The Tigers already have two conference wins and are 4-1 with homes games left against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic with the Tigers already reaping benefits of Malzahn’s changes.

“It feels like a whole new team, a whole new Auburn team,” defensive back Robenson Therezie said. “We just keep going up -- just like Coach Malzahn talks about.”

Said offensive tackle Greg Robinson: "We really see that we have a chance. The better we get, the more work we put in, and we’ll continue to get better each week. We're just listening to what the coaches say, because they really have our best interests. I think we just need to buy into the fact that we have to get better each week to be able to beat the harder teams we play later on in the year."

There’s now even talk that Auburn could pull an upset over Georgia or even Alabama when the two top-10 teams visit the Plains in November. But don’t start asking Malzahn about either one of those games just yet. After hosting Western Carolina this week, they’ll face road games at Texas A&M, Arkansas and Tennessee in three of the next four weeks.

“We’re not looking ahead,” Malzahn said. “We’re going to the next game, and I’m just proud of our guys. We’re going to get better each week, and I think we have a chance to continue that.”