Auburn still has plenty of reasons to keep playing.
Derrick Brown can think of 87,451.
“We’re going to go back home — play in front of the best fans in the country,” Auburn’s standout defensive tackle said, his chin up under Death Valley.
When he spoke last Saturday outside the visitors’ locker room at LSU, his team had just lost 23-20 to effectively eliminate Auburn from championship contention, now two games back in the SEC West.
But inside that locker room he had plenty left to play for, in all of his teammates — and more reasons waiting for him in Auburn before the final four-game home stand of this season at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Brown surely hopes to see crowds hitting that stadium capacity as the Tigers try to finish their season “the right way.”
First thing’s first, in Auburn’s game against Ole Miss this Saturday at 6 p.m.
After that, it’s no secret what Brown, his teammates, and head coach Gus Malzahn all mean when they talk about finishing the year “the right way” down the stretch: It means beating Alabama, and beating Georgia, crushing dreams, wreaking havoc and playing for team pride.
“We need to win these four games,” he said so surely. “There’s no other option than to win these four games.”
Auburn plays Ole Miss and then hits a bye before the stretch with No. 8 Georgia then Samford then No. 2 Alabama.
“We’ve got a lot to play for,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said Sunday after the team recovered in Auburn and regrouped. “I know our team is still excited.
“That’s really how we’re handling it.”
Auburn skipped practice and watched film on Sunday after the always-physical fight with LSU. The Tigers turned the page to Ole Miss, 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the SEC.
The Ole Miss game will mark Auburn’s first home game since September. Auburn was on the road for the entire month of October, losing at Florida in The Swamp on Oct. 5 before getting back on the winning side at Arkansas then facing LSU in Baton Rouge last Saturday.
In The Swamp and Death Valley, Auburn entered two of college football’s most dreaded environments, and came up with losses after showing a puncher’s chance in both games.
Now, with nothing left to do but win out, Auburn players surely hope Jordan-Hare Stadium brings its own deafening noise and proves it’s also on that level as one of the most difficult places to play in college football.
It was two years in 2017 that Auburn looked seemingly unbeatable in two upset wins over then-No. 1 Georgia and then-No. 1 Alabama. That’s the last time Auburn entered the last stretch of the season with home games against its two greatest rivals. Magic happened in Jordan-Hare in those games in 2013, when Auburn topped Georgia and then-No. 1 Alabama both again, on unbelievable plays.
“You know, we wanted to have a chance to win the SEC Championship and that is very, very tough right now, and our guys understand that,” Malzahn said. “But at the same time, you know, if you look at the whole body of work, we’re 6-2, and we lost to two top-six teams on the road and we had chances in both of those.
“We’ve got a very good schedule to finish with,” he said.
And that alone is enough to fire up a proud Auburn locker room.