AUBURN — The reason Auburn's game against Mississippi State was postponed to Dec. 12 was because of positive COVID-19 tests and subsequent quarantines within the Bulldogs program. They didn't meet the SEC's threshold of 53 scholarship players required to take the field Saturday.
But they're not the only half of the scheduled matchup in Starkville dealing with such issues.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn announced today nine players and three staff members tested positive for the virus during the team's off week, and multiple others are in quarantine as a result of contact tracing.
They're the first positive tests within the program since Sept. 12.
The Tigers have paused workouts and practice and will test every day "until we get this thing under control," Malzahn said.
"Our guys, for seven straight weeks, did a super job, so we're just doing virtual things right now," the coach continued. "And once we feel comfortable — once (team physician Dr. Michael Goodlett) feels comfortable — we'll get back going with practice and our workouts."
Malzahn said it wasn't just one event that led to the spike, but rather the fact the team had a weekend off after six straight games. "Any time you get out of your routine, that's what you're finding," he said.
It's true all around the SEC — Saturday's game between and Alabama and LSU is also reportedly in jeopardy because of positive cases within Ed Orgeron's program, and Arkansas coach Sam Pittman won't coach against Florida after he tested positive for the virus.
Malzahn said Auburn was in talks with administration about whether it would have enough players to take the field Saturday before the game was postponed because of Mississippi State's issues – players who test positive have to sit out 10 days, and close contacts 14.
Auburn's next game is Nov. 21 against Tennessee (6 p.m. CT, ESPN).
"We knew this year that there would be some challenges," Malzahn said. "We'll get through this but the No. 1 thing is making sure we get this thing under control before we get back in a routine. I feel real strong we'll be able to do that in a short period of time."
Auburn has done it before. Thirty-three players tested positive during summer workouts. Eleven more did during preseason practice, which led to 26 players missing time due to quarantines. But the Tigers got through the first six weeks of the season without losing one player for that reason.
They'll have to get a handle on it again before the final stretch of the regular season begins 11 days from now.
"I've got a lot of confidence in our players. They've sacrificed a whole lot to even get to this point," Malzahn said. "Like I said, seven straight weeks. And then we have an outbreak. When we have an outbreak, it's not just one guy. You know, it affects a lot of people. But our guys are determined."