AUBURN - They spend countless hours together, watching videos, talking about gameplans and about playing winning football in general. Together, mentor and student, they strive to make Auburn's offense one that will show the way to a championship.
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton
When Cam Newton was trying to decide last December where he would play his final two years of college football, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn told him that's the way it would be. And that's the way it's been since Newton chose the Tigers after leading Blinn College to the junior college national championship.
Going into Saturday's game at Kentucky, the Tigers are 5-0 overall, 2-0 in the SEC and ranked No. 8 in the nation. They lead the SEC in total offense at 475.4 yards per game. They lead in rushing offense with 269 yards per game. Newton has emerged as a prime Heisman Trophy candidate.
"During recruiting, he mentioned that he and I have to be very close, that I had to start trusting him," Newton said. "I trust Coach Malzahn, that he has my best interests. Anything he tells me, I’m going to try to do it 110 percent. That’s not only my position coach, not only my offensive coordinator, but my father figure away from home. A person like that, he’s a great leader to look to. I’m striving to be good every day because of him."
Malzahn's intensity is legendary among Auburn offensive players. And Newton says he's seen even more of it than usual this week. Auburn's offense struggled mightily in a 21-14 loss to Kentucky at Jordan-Hare Stadium last season.
"Coach Malzahn has raised the bar for this whole offense," Newton said. "He wants us to think bigger and better things. We have goals we are trying to reach as a whole offense. Every single day he is continuously reminding us what our goals are. The bar is going to be high. He is going to always be pushing us to be great.
"I don’t think in his position he can ever be satisfied. I think it would be more weird to see Coach Malzahn saying ‘Good job, guys’ rather than saying ‘We’ve got to get after their butts.’ He’s always wanting to be better. In my eyes, that’s what I want to see in an offensive coordinator, somebody who is going to always be relentless and looking for success."
Malzahn, Newton says, has had a different look in his eye and in the eyes of veteran players this week. The Auburn offense struggled mightily in a 21-14 loss to Kentucky at Jordan-Hare Stadium last season.
"You just feel everybody’s energy out there on the football field," Newton said. "You know it’s kind of personal for all those guys that were here last year. Just looking at the film, it’s disgusting to look at. Coach Malzahn always mentions it. We usually go play after play after play, but this week we’ve been skipping plays because it’s just so hard for him to even look at.
"Just seeing him like that, I don’t like that. I think a lot of guys are taking it personal this week. Kentucky is not going to lie down. They are a great team. We are going to have to put our best foot forward."
Malzahn says the Tigers will face another challenge from a Kentucky defense that has given up 90 points in turnover-plagued losses to Florida and Ole Miss on the road the past two weeks. The problems of last season's game, he says, must be avoided.
"Well, we have to execute," Malzahn said. "That was a real tough stretch. Kentucky was a real tough game. They had a lot to do with it. They played very good defense and made us earn it. We just didn’t execute very well. We have to find a way to execute better and put some points on the board.
They just played very sound defense and made us earn it. Our execution was very poor at times. We weren’t very good that night. They did a good job of keeping things in front of them to make us earn it."