Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne (44) outruns Georgia defensive back Dominick Sanders (24) to score a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore
November 18, 2014

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) The Auburn Tigers are adjusting to life out of playoff and Southeastern Conference contention.

Two straight losses have left the 16th-ranked Tigers instead focusing on repairing psyches, improving a struggling defense and even getting the normally productive offense going again. The goal set early in the year of being ''13 seconds better'' and winning a national title is out the window.

''It's dreadful because that's what our whole goal was this year, to get back being SEC champions and having a shot at the national championship,'' quarterback Nick Marshall said Tuesday. ''But it didn't fall our way this year. We're going to finish out strong.''

What's left for Auburn (7-3, 5-3 SEC) is a game against FCS Samford and a visit to rival No. 2 Alabama with a chance to improve bowl prospects and claim statewide bragging rights. It's just not what they were hoping for at this point this season.

The Tigers have lost back-to-back games against Texas A&M, with two unforced fumbles in the final three minutes, and 34-7 to No. 9 Georgia that was their most lopsided loss of Malzahn's nearly two-year tenure.

It's a dramatic slide for a team that two weeks ago stood third in the College Football Playoff rankings. Auburn was seconds away from winning the national title last season, so now the team has to find another source of motivation.

''There's no doubt in my mind we're going to finish this thing strong,'' coach Gus Malzahn said. ''We've still got a lot to play for.''

Plenty of room for improvement, too.

The Tigers have allowed 400-plus yards in each of their last five games. Malzahn is sticking up for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, but he's also aware of the criticism from fans.

''It's the same defensive staff that led us to 13 seconds away from winning the national championship,'' he said. ''We've got some deficiencies obviously and we've just got to do a better job of hiding them. But no, I have confidence in these guys. We're going to finish this thing strong.''

Besides the defensive shortcomings, Auburn scored on the opening drive against Georgia and was shut out the rest of the way. The Tigers' seven points and 292 yards were both the fewest since Malzahn brought his hurry-up, no-huddle offense to Auburn.

Auburn was without leading receiver D'haquille Williams, who has an ankle injury. Malzahn said Williams isn't practicing yet, but ''we hope to get him back.''

Marshall had just 112 passing yards and 41 rushing yards. It was his lowest output in total yards since playing only the second half of the opener against Arkansas because of suspension.

Now, the Tigers have what should be a mismatch with Samford to try to get the issues corrected before heading to Alabama.

''Obviously if we win out, we're still going to be a proud bunch of guys,'' center Reese Dismukes said. ''Look at what we've accomplished over the last two years. But that's ahead of us. We've got to beat Samford this week and we've got to get better on both sides of the ball and keep getting better, keep getting better and we'll see what happens.''

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