Noticeably soft spoken and eerily lethargic, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's personality contrasts significantly from the football savior he's quickly becoming known as on the plains of eastern Alabama.
One year removed from a 3-9 season that sent Gene Chizik packing, the Tigers' hopes have quickly shiftedfrom rebuilding to aspirations of a SEC—and maybe national—championship.
Sporting a 9-1 record and controlling his own destiny for a trip to Atlanta, nobody could blame Malzahn for breathing a sigh of relief and pinching himself at the season his Tigers have had. But that was never in the cards for the collected 48-year-old.
"I didn't let my mind go there," Malzahn said. "We just took it one game at a time. I told our guys that as long as we improve each practice and each game, we (would) see what happens."
What happened Saturday may have been Auburn's most impressive performance yet in 2013. The Tigers' SEC-best rushing attack racked up 454 yards on the ground in a 55-23 rout of Tennessee.
Auburn attempted just seven passes. But with the effectiveness the Tigers found on the ground, very few passes were deemed necessary.
In typical Malzahn fashion, he summed up his unbalanced play-calling in the most blatantly honest—yet humble—way possible.
"When you're running the football, just keep doing it," he said. "That's kind of who we're developing into.
"I still believe we can throw the football. There's no doubt in my mind that we can but when you don't have to, there's a pretty good feeling when you can line up and run the football at will."
Junior quarterback Nick Marshall's efficiency with his feet made the Auburn passing game irrelevant. He finished with a season-high 214 yards rushing on 14 carries, including two touchdowns against the Vols.
However, one of his seven passes found the hands of UT defensive end Jacques Smith, who returned it for a touchdown to trim Auburn's lead to 27-20 just before halftime.
Instead of letting that mishap become a turning point in the game, Marshall turned it into a positive. Two plays later, he went untouched into the end zone for a 38-yard score. The Tigers led by 14 heading into half and never looked back.
After the untimely pick-six, Malzahn didn't notice anything different from his quarterback. Like his head coach, not much rattles Marshall.
"He didn't say much," Malzahn said. "He was just even keel, he just said let's go to the next drive, to the next play. It's over with.
"That's one of Nick's strengths. He doesn't get too high or too low."
Marshall attributes that quiet confidence to his head coach.
"Coach Malzahn tells me, 'whenever adversity hits, just keep a high chin, a high head,'" Marshall said. "So that's what I did. I just ran off the field and worried about the next play."
Though the first-year coach didn't look too far down the road entering the season, he admitted to curiosity—at the very least—as far as how the Tigers would rebound from one of the worst seasons in school history.
"I was curious, just like our team was, (about) how we'd do and how we'd improve," Malzahn said. "They found a way and they bought into what we asked them to do and I'm proud of them for that."
Two of Auburn's biggest games still remain—home affairs against Georgia and No. 1 Alabama. Malzahn's miracle of an inaugural season could be brought somewhat back down to Earth before December hits.
All the more reason why the Tigers should take in Saturday's win over the Vols.
"I just told them to enjoy it," Malzahn said. "I mean, it was a big win. This is a tough place to play. I was very concerned about this one.
"We'll start worrying about next week, tomorrow. They've earned it."