AUBURN, Ala. -- The Auburn Tigers have been here before, riding a hot streak after a sluggish start.
The 12th-ranked Tigers have been able to consistently sustain that high level of play all the way into the national championship games in 2010 and 2013 . They've also flopped badly down the stretch in other seasons, including last year.
Here they are again, at a potential crossroads for a team with Southeastern Conference championship aspirations.
Auburn (4-1, 2-0 SEC) enters Saturday's game with Mississippi (2-2, 0-1) having won two straight SEC games by a combined 100-24 after a shaky start. Coach Gus Malzahn said the key to keeping it going through the season is to make steady progress.
"Very few teams are able to improve each week with the execution and getting better at who they are and what they do," Malzahn said Tuesday. "And that's really the formula. With that being said, the injury factor to impact players. You can handle injuries a lot of times but if it's your impact players, sometimes that causes a little bit of a lull.
"But it's about getting better each week and the teams we've had that have done that, usually at the end are playing very good."
Auburn has had hot streaks two of the past three seasons only to falter. Last season, the Tigers lost their last three games against Power 5 teams after reeling off six straight wins following a poor start. Injuries to players including quarterback Sean White and tailback Kamryn Pettway took their toll.
"Obviously injuries had a part in that but at the end of the day whoever's out there has to play, including myself," tailback Kerryon Johnson said. "We could definitely look back on that as a learning experience and say, 'Hey, even though that happened, we can't let it affect us as much as it did last year.'"
In 2014, Auburn started 5-0 and made it as high as No. 2 in the rankings but won only three more games the rest of the way.
This team has some things going for it.
It has the first Auburn offense to score a total of 100 points in its first two SEC game. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham has only had 12 incompletions in the past three games combined.
Johnson has rushed for five touchdowns against Missouri and three against Mississippi State .
The Tigers have a Top 10 defense that is the only one in FBS that has yet to allow more than 14 points in a single game.
They've seamlessly replaced two of Auburn's top defenders, linemen Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson, who are now playing in the NFL.
"It's really just a team defense," Malzahn said. "We talked about, how are you going to replace Carl? How are you going to replace Mon? Well, the message has been as a collective group. And that's what they've done. It's been somebody new just about every game."
More college football coverage: http://collegefootball.ap.org and www.Twitter.com/AP_Top25