A Second Half Juggernaut.
From Worst to First.
(Photo by Acid Reign)
War Eagle, everybody! I hope everyone had a fine Christmas yesterday, and is ready to get back to reality today. Today, we’ll look at the second half of Auburn’s 2013 football season. After a 5-1 start to the season, I think Auburn folks were pretty satisfied with how things had progressed to that point. Still, the Tigers were headed for 3 SEC road games in 4 weeks, and I think there was some apprehension. I heard more than one fan opine that we just needed to beat Florida Atlantic to become bowl-eligible. I think few folks had much notion what was in store.
On October 19th, Auburn took on 7th ranked Texas A&M in College Station, Texas. The Aggies scored first on a Manziel to Evans heave, but Auburn gave as good as it got for much of the first half. A botched offensive series near the half allowed the Aggies to late hail Mary, and Texas A&M led 24-17 at the break. The teams traded punts, then touchdowns in the 3rd quarter. After an Auburn 3 and out, Texas A&M drove into the 4th quarter, and down to the Auburn 2 yard line, where a big hit by LaDarius Owens knocked Johnny Manziel out of the game. Texas A&M settled for a field goal, but led Auburn by 10 early in the final period. Nick Marshall and the Auburn offense got to work, grinding out one touchdown drive after another.
The Tigers sandwiched a number of strong runs around a perfect deep corner route to Sammie Coates, and Auburn had cut the lead to 3. Manziel sat out the next A&M series, which began with a false start and ended 3 plays later. The Tigers took the punt, and drove for another score, all on the ground. The highlight was a 53 yard burst around right end by Tre Mason. Cameron Artis-Payne spun into the end zone, and Auburn had the lead back with 9:06 left in the game. Johnny Manziel returned to the game, and took the ball into the end zone himself with 5:05 left. The Aggies held a 41-38 lead, but Auburn was not done. A crucial 27 completion from Nick Marshall to Marcus Davis kept the drive alive, and Tre Mason stretched the ball out for a score with 1:19 left in the game. Had he left Johnny Football too much time on the clock?
It looked almost certain that Auburn would lose, based on the first few plays of the final drive. The Tigers allowed Tre Williams a 35 yard return to start, then Manziel and Evans hooked up for completions of 19 and 22 yards, and the Aggies were first and ten at the Auburn 18 yard line, just like that. Chris Davis and Ryan Smith tipped away a first down pass in the end zone. Dee Ford sacked Manziel on 2nd down, then Kris Frost stopped Manziel for only a 5 yard gain. On 4th and long, the pocket collapsed, and Dee Ford sacked Manziel to end Aggie hopes! Auburn had won at Kyle Field, 45-41!
The 6-1 Auburn Tigers returned home for a tune-up game against Florida Atlantic. The Tigers scored early and often in that one, with 3 first quarter touchdowns on the ground. About the only drama in this game was that Nick Marshall left the game after a big hit on a hapless Owl defensive back, and Auburn folks were left to wonder if the Tigers would play a November slate without him. Jeremy Johnson took over for a couple of quarters, before Auburn killed the clock with an all-wildcat package. Auburn cruised over FAU, 45-10.
The Tigers seemed to start slow in November at Arkansas. The Razorbacks put together a 13 play drive to start the game, and Auburn then stalled their first drive with a false start penalty. Arkansas was moving the ball, but turnovers killed ’em early. The first drive was derailed by a Cassanova McKinzy interception in the red zone, then Kris Frost recovered a Hog fumble at their own 29 yard line. Tre Mason got Auburn on the board off that fumble late in the first quarter. The Razorbacks put together another good drive, settling for a field goal, then botched an onside kick attempt. Auburn took a short field, and punched in another all-run touchdown drive. Arkansas put together another long drive, 17 plays, but that one turned over on downs at the Auburn 2 yard line. The teams went to the break with Auburn sputtering, and Arkansas putting long drives together. However, the Tigers led 14-3 on the scoreboard.
In the second half, Auburn came out slugging on offense. Things were hitting on all cylinders, and two Tiger drives later it was 28-3. The drama wasn’t over, though. Auburn allowed an 87 yard kick return to Korliss Marshall, and Arkansas got a quick touchdown pass. Coupled with another long Arkansas drive into the 4th quarter, the Razorbacks cut the Tiger lead to 28-17. Auburn responded with a 9 play, 75 yard touchdown drive, nearly all of it runs by Tre Mason. The Tigers held on, for a 35-17 win in Fayetteville. Auburn won the game, but it had been a sloppy outing against the last-place Razorbacks.
Auburn traveled to Rocky Top the next weekend, to take on Tennessee. Auburn had only passed the ball 9 times against Arkansas, but the experts decreed that Tennessee would shut down the Auburn running game. The Auburn offense was shut down early in this one, but it was because the Tigers opened with four consecutive pass plays. Tennessee drove for an early field goal, then Chris Davis set Auburn up with a 42 yard punt return. Nick Marshall hit C. J. Uzomah for a 25 yard score, and the teams would begin to light up the Neyland Stadium scoreboard. Tennessee would drive for another field goal, then a Tre Mason fumble set the Vols up to go ahead, 13-6. Auburn answered with a 2-play running TD drive, then an 85 yard Chris Davis punt return score. Another all-rushing drive put Auburn up 27-13, before Nick Marshall threw a pick-six that the Vols scooped up off the turf. Marshall made up for the gaffe with a 38 yard burst through a totally confused Vol. secondary. Auburn led 34-20 at the half.
The second half was all Auburn. The Vols could manage only a field goal, and the Auburn rushing attack ground the Tennessee defense into hamburger. Auburn posted a 55-23 victory, the most points Tennessee had ever given up in Neyland Stadium. Auburn’s rushing attack was supposed to be shut down, but it finished with 444 yards. The Tigers attempted only 7 passes on the day.
On November 16th, the Georgia Bulldogs visited Jordan Hare Stadium. This was the latest team the pundits claimed that would shut down Auburn’s running game. The Tigers opened the game with a 16 play drive that had no completed passes, and ended on a Cody Parkey field goal. In case anyone thought that the Tigers had forgotten how to pass, the next drive featured 4 completed passes, capped off by a 21 yard tackle-breaking run by Corey Grant. The Tigers pushed it to 13-0 early in the 2nd period, before Georgia answered. A big pass from Aaron Murray to Michael Bennett set UGA up, and Todd Gurley bashed in from 9 yards out. Auburn answered with 3 straight drives into Georgia territory, powered by the running game. Auburn sandwiched a blocked field goal attempt with two touchdowns on the ground. Georgia drove late in the half for a field goal, and Auburn led 27-10 at the break.
Georgia made a game of it in the second half. The Bulldogs drove 10 plays for a score to open up, but Auburn countered with big passes to Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis. Marshall scored again on the ground, and Auburn led 34-17. The Tigers put another drive together late in the 3rd, and into the 4th quarter, but a holding penalty killed it. Cody Parkey hit the field goal, which put Auburn up 37-17 with 12:39 left in the football game. Georgia came storming back. Georgia put together back to back scoring drives, while Auburn went 3 and out back to back. With 4:47 left in the game, Georgia took over again at the Auburn 45 after a shanked punt. It seemed that the Tigers had completely fallen apart. Auburn tried to make a stand inside the ten yard line, and got Georgia to 4th and goal at the 5. Aaron Murray took off on a quarterback draw, appeared to be stopped a yard short, and a long review ensued. In the end, referee Penn Wagers and crew inexplicably gave Georgia the touchdown, and Auburn trailed 38-37. With 1:45 left in the game, Auburn needed to get at least to field goal range. Marshall directed the Tigers to one first down, then discombobulation followed. A third down sack left Auburn at 4th and 18. Both teams traded timeouts, then one of the more miraculous plays in stadium history happened.
Marshall took the snap, and Georgia sent only 3 rushers. Sammie Coates came wide open 20 yards down the field on a square-in route, but Marshall loaded up a big ball, and threw deep for Ricardo Louis on the post. Lewis did get behind the two Georgia safeties, but the ball was underthrown by about 5 yards. Georgia’s Josh Harvey-Clemons had the ball hit him on the shoulder, and it deflected over his back, right to the fingertips of Louis, who juggled it, then hauled it in for a 73 yard touchdown that stunned the nation! Georgia had just 25 seconds remaining, but that was plenty of time for Aaron Murray, who fired to Arthur Lynch for 22, then Rantaveous Wooten for 28. Finally, with the clock near zero, Dee Ford flushed Murray out, and hammered him while he was throwing. The ball fell to the turf, and Auburn had survived Georgia, 43-38!
After a bye week, it was time for the Iron Bowl. Auburn hosted the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Finally, said the experts, Auburn’s run-heavy offense would be stopped. Georgia was supposed to have done it, but the Bulldogs gave up 566 yards, including 323 on the ground. Alabama won the toss and took the football, and drove into field goal range, only to see Cade Foster miss from 44 yards out. The teams traded punts, then Auburn seemed to have another drive going dead on a holding penalty. On 3rd and 18, Nick Marshall rolled out, and found Sammie Coates for 21 yards. Three plays later, Marshall burst up the gut for a 45 yard score, and Auburn had a 7-0 first quarter lead. Bama answered with a long touchdown drive early in the 2nd quarter, then a Tre Mason fumble set Bama up again. A. J. McCarron hit Kevin Norwood for a 20 yard score, and Bama had the lead. Auburn followed with a 3 and out, and McCarron guided ’em downfield again, this time with T. J. Yeldon bashing in from close range. Alabama led 21-7, and the game was looking to be out of hand for the Tigers. Auburn took over with 3:42 left in the half, and ran the ball 7 times for 81 yards, with Tre Mason getting 6 of the carries, and the 1 yard touchdown. Alabama led at the half, 21-14.
Auburn took the second half kickoff, and it was clear that Marshall and Mason were on a mission. They bashed for 4 first downs, then Marshall hit C. J. Uzomah for the score, and the game was tied at 21. Auburn continued to move the ball, but had difficulty getting into scoring position. A Steven Clark punt killed Alabama at the 1 yard line, but the Tide drove 14 plays with it, before Cade Foster missed a chip shot field goal. Auburn moved it to the Bama 47, then Steven Clark pinned ’em at the 1 again! Lightning struck for the Tide. McCarron play faked in his own end zone, then hit Amari Cooper for a 99 yard score, and Alabama had the lead back. Auburn then went 4 and out, failing on 4th down deep in Auburn territory. Luckily, Alabama returned the favor. At the Auburn 13, the Tide elected to pass on a field goal for a ten point lead, and instead handed off to Yeldon for the 5th straight time, and turned it over on downs. A sack of Nick Marshall on first down ended Auburn’s drive before it really started, and Bama had it back off the punt. The Tide was in scoring position, but a holding flag killed the drive, and in came Cade Foster for his third field goal attempt of the night, this one to more or less ice the game with 2:32 left. Foster’s kick was low, and Nosa Eguae blocked it! Auburn recovered, and had one last chance, trailing 28-21.
With the clock running, Auburn handed off up the gut 3 straight times, grinding out a first down. Three more Mason runs netted another first down at the Bama 39, but the clock was now under a minute left. On 1st and 10, Mason again headed into the line. This time, Marshall pulled the ball back out, and sprinted for the corner. At the last instant, Marshall halted at the line, and fired the ball to Sammie Coates, who was wide open, and took it in! Auburn had tied the game at 28! Alabama was not done. On a first down pass attempt, the pressure came from Auburn. McCarron had to throw it out of bounds. With that rush coming again, Bama opted to run a pair of draw plays. Auburn didn’t contain ’em well, and on the second one, T. J. Yeldon went out of bounds at the Auburn 39 yard line. At first it seemed that time had expired, and the game was heading to overtime. However, after further review, one second was put back on the clock. Alabama sent in true freshman Adam Griffith to attempt a 57 yard field goal for the win. Auburn called timeout, and sent Chris Davis deep into the end zone. Griffith’s kick was just short. Davis fielded the miss, 9 yard deep in the end zone. He came out in the middle of the field, took a step or two to the right, then cut down the left sideline, racing the distance for the Auburn touchdown! Bedlam ensued at Jordan Hare Stadium! Auburn had won the Iron Bowl, 34-28! The Tigers were SEC Western Division champions, and were in the SEC Title Game!
The SEC Title game featured a pair of unlikely teams, Auburn and Missouri. Both had finished with losing records the year before. By the time December 7th rolled around, we were hearing a familiar refrain from the experts. Missouri’s second ranked run defense would shut Auburn’s ground game down. Auburn would not be able to run, and Missouri’s tall receivers would have a field day on the Auburn secondary. The game started slowly for Auburn. The Tiger D forced a three and out, but a Nick Marshall fumble set Missouri up to take a 3-0 lead. Then the Marshall and Mason show got started. They bashed it to the Missouri 38, then Marshall did his best “Johnny Football” impression, scrambled off a play fake, and hit a deep bomb in the endzone to Sammie Coates. Auburn took a 7-3 lead. The teams traded touchdown drives, making it look easy. Auburn’s was set up on a 54 yard screen pass to Coates. Auburn’s Cody Parkey then executed an onside kick, and recovered it himself. Auburn was forced to settle for a 54 yard field goal attempt, after another Marshall fumble. Parkey missed, but Missouri was initially unable to capitalize, as Jermaine Whitehead came up with an interception at the Auburn 9 yard line. Several plays later, Marshall coughed the ball up again, and this time it was snatched out of the air by Missouri’s E. J. Gaines, and returned for a score. Mizzou had grabbed at 17-14 lead. Auburn answered with an 8 play drive, capped by Mason again. Missouri drove for a field goal, then Mason broke loose again, setting himself up for a 7 yard score. Auburn had a chance to extend the lead, but bogged down on badly executed wide receiver screen attempts. Missouri got the ball back with 1:10 left in the half, and the Auburn secondary allowed a 55 yard bomb for the score. Auburn led at the half, 28-27. I think most folks felt that if not for the fumbles, Auburn would be comfortably ahead.
The teams traded punts to start the second half with Auburn gaining enough field position on the exchange to set Cody Parkey up for a 52 yard field goal, his career long. James Franklin then shredded the Auburn defense through the air, and put the Missouri Tigers ahead with a 10 yard strike to Marcus Murphy. Auburn’s answer was typical: 6 plays, 75 yards, all on the ground. Auburn retook the lead, 38-34. A false start doomed Missouri’s next possession, and then it was more Auburn ground game. This time, it was 5 plays, 54 yards, as Cameron Artis-Payne juked in from 15 yards out. Missouri tried to stay in the game, as Henry Josey took off for a 65 yard gain. Franklin scored on the keeper, and added the two point conversion himself as well. Missouri had cut the Auburn lead to 45-42, but could they stop Tre Mason? The answer was a resounding “no!” Auburn drove 75 yards in 8 plays, with Mason scoring again. With Missouri trailing again by 2 scores, they had to rely on the pass, and Auburn brought the heat. Sacks and passes short of the stake doomed the rest of Missouri’s possessions. Auburn took over on downs at the Missouri 13, and Tre Mason iced the game in one play. Late in the game, Mason ground out one final first down, as he went over 300 rushing yards for the game. Nick Marshall then took a knee, and Auburn defeated Missouri, 59-42. The Tigers were SEC Champions! From 0-8 a year ago, the Tigers made it to the top of the SEC!
In the aftermath of the SEC Title game, undefeated Ohio State lost to Michigan State in the B1G Title Game, and Auburn received a berth in the BCS Title Game. On January 6th, Auburn will play Florida State in Pasadena, California, for the national title. It’s pretty remarkable that two teams from the Deep South, less than 3 hours travel apart, will have to travel to the Pacific ocean to play each other for the first time in 23 years. Auburn leads the all-time series against FSU, with 13 wins, 4 losses and a single tie. However, the Seminoles have won 3 of the last 4 against Auburn. The last game the two played was in 1990, when Stan White was a redshirt freshman. Jim Von Wyl hit a last minute field goal to give Auburn a 20-17 win at Jordan Hare Stadium.