Not even the referee could slow down Tre Mason and Auburn’s rushing attack!
(Photo by Derrick Roberts)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign report, on Auburn’s electrifying 59-42 victory over the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Championship Game. The two SEC Division heavyweights traded multiple big blows in the first half, before the Auburn ground game pulled away from the Tigers from Missouri in the final stanza. Along the way the Auburn Tigers shattered a number of SEC Championship records, including most points scored (59), most rushing yards (545), and most total yards (677).
For the past four weeks, we’ve heard a similar mantra from television and newspaper pundits: “Auburn is one-dimensional. This week, they are facing Team X, which will be able to stop the run and defeat the Tigers.” First it was Tennessee who was supposed to hang with Auburn. The Vols surrendered 444 rushing yards in a 55-23 rout. Then it was Georgia, and Todd Grantham’s defense which was finally getting healthy. It didn’t matter. Auburn rammed 338 rushing yards down Georgia’s gullet, in a 43-38 victory. A week ago, it was Alabama’s top ranked defense, which would finally doom Auburn. Instead, Auburn gashed Alabama for 296, in a 34-28 win that knocked Alabama off the top of the mountain. This week, it was supposed to be the mighty Mizzou front seven’s turn, and this morning I think I heard at least one rose-carrying TV pundit opine that Florida State would slow Auburn down. Folks, from where I sit, this Auburn offense is gathering steam against better and better competition.
One thing I particularly enjoyed yesterday in Atlanta was circulating amongst the fans in attendance. I had figured that there might be a lot of empty seats, due to inclement weather in the midwest. Folks, Missouri fans are made of pretty hardy stuff. There were no empty seats. We enjoyed talking to a number of them, and it was a great experience every time. Most had driven as much as 14 hours over, through or around ice to get to the Championship Game, and they were spirited and loud in the stands. I think they’ve made a fine addition to the SEC. I salute our neighbors from the northwest, and they’ve made a good addition to the SEC fanbase, it is clear.
Defensively, Auburn took some lumps from probably the best collection of skill players outside of Lee County. Missouri took advantage of some Auburn tendencies, creating mismatches with Dorial Green-Beckham matched up one on one with safeties. They also noted when Auburn split the defensive ends wide, checking down to devastating draw plays with either Henry Josey or quarterback James Franklin carrying the mail. Frankly, I don’t think they ran Josey enough. He’s an elusive back that is difficult to get on the ground. Josey averaged 13.7 yards per carry, but they only gave it to him 9 times, due to trailing most of the game on the scoreboard.
Where Auburn slowed Missouri down was with the pass rush, and timely run stops from the defensive line. This was one game where Auburn did not match up well in the secondary, but the line and pass rush was able to force some errant throws. Auburn’s rush got stronger and stronger as the game wore on, which has been the pattern all year. Playing ten linemen regularly has paid big dividends for this team.
Auburn again had the edge on the opponent on special teams. I had heard worries from some Missouri sources about the legs of kicker Andrew Baggett and punter Christian Brinser. They needn’t have worried. Baggett had an A+ game, hitting all of his kicks and nailing 6 of 8 kickoffs. Where Auburn got the edge on special teams was with a flukey success on an onside kick attempt, which didn’t go 10 yards, but bounced off the chest of a Missouri player. Also, Chris Davis ripped off 36 yards on 2 punt returns, which hurt Brinser’s net, and set the Auburn offense up around midfield.
Unit Grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: B+. This unit only tallied 12 total tackles, but their physical presence caused Missouri to abandon any notion of a power-based run game up the middle. The other Tigers did most of their rushing damage on check-down draw plays and speed-options to the boundary. While Missouri quarterback James Franklin tallied over 300 passing yards, he only managed a 56.7 percent completion percentage, as the line forced a number of errant throws. Auburn’s defensive line came up with 3 sacks and 7 quarterback hurries, according to offical stats. I think the psycological damage was worse. The main demerits I gave the line in this game was in the guard-tackle gaps on passing downs. Rarely did we see any inside move by an end, and the draw and quarterback keeper worked like a charm repeatedly. This may be because defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson did not want the quarterback to escape to the outside, but it was a tactical weakness for much of the game.
Linebackers: B-. Again, the linebackers must bear some responsibility for successful draw and option plays. Auburn hasn’t seen many option-pitches this season, and there was some hesitation playing those. With star Robensen Therezie used nearly exclusively in coverage this game, two linebackers had to try and contain the speedy Missouri backfield. In addition, Ellis Johnson had the defense take some chances up front, this game. They showed a number of different alignments, forcing a check-off, then they’d move again before the snap. There were a number of linebacker blitzes, this game. It worked at times, with the unit combining for 20 total tackles, and 4 quarterback hurries. When it didn’t, results could be ugly.
Secondary: D+. The secondary led the way with 26 tackles and made some key plays in this game, but I think they lost the battle with the exceptional Mizzou receiving corps. With more accurate passing, this could have been a 500+ passing yardage game. Still, with the game on the line Chris Davis and his cohorts did what they had to do to hold Missouri scoreless in the 4th quarter while the offense salted the game way. I counted a letter grade off for Ryan White’s late hit out of bounds. In the stands, from the diametric opposite corner of the field, I bemoaned it as an effort-penalty that cost us yardage. The replay I saw later showed a hard shove at least ten yards out of bounds, and the Missouri player suffered a ghastly collision with the sharp corner of a cart. I’d like to apologize on behalf of Auburn for that hit. That’s not what we stand for. That said, based on what I know about Ryan White, that’s not what he’s about, either. It was a regrettable incident.
Punting: A. It was another masterful job by Steven Clark and the Auburn punt team. This was a weird game for me, watching punts. Sitting high in the corner of the end zone Clark was kicking to, it looked like to me that most of his punts went straight up, and were usually in danger of hitting the lights. More than once I exclaimed, “oh, no!” and prepared to lament a bad punt. Clark averaged 40 yards a punt, and all three were downed inside the ten. Bravo!
Punt Returns: A. Missouri’s Christian Brinser had a great leg on the day, hitting 5 punts for 45 yards. However, Auburn’s return team negated much of that advantage. Chris Davis broke two of the long punts for 36 yards, and negated the roll on two others with fair catches. Brinser ended up with no punts killed inside the Auburn 20.
Kick Returns: B-. Auburn only had two opportunities here, as Missouri’s plan was mostly to boom ‘em out of the end zone. Auburn’s 14 yard per return average looks bad on paper, but one was a sky-kick effort just before halftime that Nosa Eguae fielded, battled upfield for 7 yards, and gave Auburn good field position at the 27. Corey Grant fielded the other one at the goal line, and made the 21.
Place-kicking: A+. Cody Parkey did miss a 54-yard attempt, that would have been a career-long. However, I can’t count off for that, as it was a coaching miscue to even attempt it. It was 4th and 5, and I felt like Auburn should have either gone for it, or punted, especially considering how expertly Steven Clark has punted lately. Jermaine Whitehead kept Auburn from yielding points off the mistake with an interception subsequently. Otherwise, Parkey was perfect on the day, including a career-long 52 yarder. He hit 8 of 9 kickoffs for touchbacks, and the one that wasn’t got stopped at the 14 yard line. Parkey also recovered his onside kick attempt.
Offensive Line: A+. Three different Auburn linemen received holding penalties in this one, and ordinarily I’d be docking some points. However, I saw numerous plays on both side where blatant tackles were made on defensive players, and I’ll confess that I suspect the SEC just goes by a quota system and randomly calls holds. On a team that rushed the ball for 565 yards in a championship game, against the number 2 rushing defense in the conference, I can’t give less than an A+. Strategically, Missouri actually seemed to be retreating late in the game. Whipped up front, they were going with a 3 man line, hoping to somehow avoid Auburn’s blocking up front and slow Auburn rushers down. That was a sure sign of desperation, at that point.
Running Backs: A+. No fumbles, no penalties, good blocking, 407 rushing yards, and 6 touchdowns… I don’t know what more anyone could possibly want out of their backfield. Jay Prosch was a monster, and he was joined by a heavy dose of Brandon Fulse lining up as an H-back in this game and blocking pretty well, too. Welcome back, Mr. Fulse! You’ve been missed! I don’t know if FSU’s quarterback can be denied the Heisman, but I think Tre Mason’s a clear #2, at this point. What an awesome, fantastic game, and SEASON, from Tre Mason!
Receivers: A. Auburn’s crew here in the Georgia Dome was looking to put a hat on a hat, in this game, and they did. Sammie Coates burned ‘em several times downfield, and Ricardo Louis had a good day on speed sweeps. Trovon Reed has largely been used as an unsung blocker this season, but he came up with a great catch in this one when he was called on. There were no dropped balls, in this game.
Quarterback: B+. I counted off a letter grade for three first half fumbles, one of which was returned for a score. That could have been a back-breaker in any game. However, Nick Marshall recovered from his mistakes, and played championship ball. We’ll still hear the critics saying that he’s a defensive back that can’t pass, I’m sure. I’d like to point out that Nick was 9 of 11 in this game for a gaudy 12 yards per pass. And that was against a division champion. He also added 101 rushing yards for good measure. What’s not necessarily measurable in the published stats is how deceptive he is with his ball movement, and how well he reads the defense on the option plays. I’ll echo what most Auburn fans believe here, we’re quite lucky to have him. I can’t wait to see how he does, going forward. He’s a phenomenal player.
Hail to the SEC Champions! We’re headed to Pasadena to play for the national title, for the second time in the past four seasons! Does it get any better? These Auburn football players have made quite the journey in the past 365 days. From a team that was pitied by Alabama this time last year, and was gifted with only a 7 touchdown loss in the Iron Bowl, to the SEC Champions and BCS National Championship participant in just a year? I think it’s unprecedented. Auburn has already tied the NCAA record for biggest improvement, and can break it over FSU’s head on January 6th!
The future is bright for this team, even beyond this season. We’ve got a fantastic head coach signed on for a while, and I’d figure most of Auburn’s talented assistants aren’t going anywhere, unless it’s to a plum head-coaching job in the FBS. Auburn will lose some valued seniors to graduation, and probably a junior or two by the time it’s over this winter. That happens on any good team in the NCAA. This team has a ton of young guys that are improving by leaps and bounds returning.
From worst, to first, in a single season. The team that overwhelmed Missouri in Atlanta is a far cry from even the team that held on against Dread Pirate Mike Leach’s Washington State team on Labor Day weekend, much less last year’s team. Persistence is the key to improvement, as this team has learned. I would not be surprised to find them drastically improved in January, after what I’ve seen this season. Experts, pick against Auburn at your peril. We welcome it.
War Eagle! SEC Champions! There’s so much to be thankful for this weekend. Most of all, I have to hand it to a group of young men who suffered through abject failure last season, and picked up the pieces. Coaches or not, these young men did it. I have no doubt whatsoever that we’ll look back decades in the future at this team, with all of these guys being celebrated as successes in life.
I’d also like to hand it to the Auburn fans who stayed true through our darkest year since color television. Auburn fans never abandoned ship. The Georgia Dome was rocking, Saturday, and it was the 70 percent blue and orange clad bunch who never gave in, and celebrated another championship. It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger!
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