Oct. 6, 2013
Robenson Therezie is off an running on a 78-yard interception return (Shanna Lockwood/USA Today)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - As clock neared the five-minute mark in the third quarter with Auburn leading Ole Miss 27-16, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall threw a pass to tailback Tre Mason for a 1-yard gain.
And with that, Auburn all but abandoned the forward pass. Marshall just threw one more, a deep pass on third down that fell incomplete in the fourth quarter.
Even in a fourth quarter that was filled with drama down the stretch, the Auburn offense stayed on the ground. After all, Marshall was on his way to a career running game in which he would rush for 140 yards on 14 carries and score two touchdowns. In the end, it worked and the Tigers beat Ole Miss 30-22 at Jordan-Hare Stadium to move to 4-1 on the season and 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference.
But down the stretch, Marshall's running threat was limited, too. He banged up his knee at the end of a 14-yard run early in the fourth quarter and carried just once more.
The Tigers finished with 282 yards rushing on 48 carries. Marshall completed 11-of-17 passes for 93 yards.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said the plan was to throw significantly more, but circumstances changed that plan.
"The way the game unfolded, we were up 13-3 early, but our defense had been on the field forever," Lashlee said. "We tried to really run the football and help them out a little bit. We were able to do that. We had a plan to throw the ball more. There's no doubt about it.
"... There at the end of the game, we probably got a little conservative. We are going to have to make more plays down the field in the passing game. We know that. We're still working on that. At the end of the day, I don't care what the stat sheet looks like, a win is a win."
Marshall, Lashlee said, did everything that was asked of him and more.
"He was great," Lashlee said. "He did a great job of protecting the football."
Two fumbles in the fourth quarter kept Ole Miss in the game.
A fumble charged to Marshall at the Ole Miss 16 ended an Auburn drive that might have sealed the game. Ole Miss got nothing out of that one. One play after Ole Miss cut Auburn's lead to 27-22, tailback Cameron Artis-Payne fumbled after an 18-yard run. Auburn safety Ryan Smith intercepted a Bo Wallace pass to get the ball back for Auburn.
"I know we had the run-through and the running back got hit as soon as he got the ball (on the fumble charged to Marshall)," Lashlee said. "That's what bothered me more than anything. We put the ball on the ground twice at critical times, and our defense bailed us out. That's not going to work. We talked about, we talked about it and we had two weeks. We have to get that corrected or we're going to end up losing ballgames."
But, overall, Lashlee said, the Tigers did what they needed to do.
"Anytime you get a win in this league, it's big," Lashlee said. "It's big for our football team to be 4-1 right now. Our fans were incredible. Our defense made so many critical stops in the second half. That's a great team win for us, and I'm really proud of the guys.
"Nick ran the ball well until he got a little dinged up. He averaged 10 yards a carry. He really did a great job protecting the football. Our o-line played great. Tre ran the ball extremely hard."
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers did what has become normal. They gave up more than 400 yards for the fifth consecutive game, but they got tough in red zone and tougher when the game was on the line. They harassed Wallace from start to finish, getting six sacks - two by junior tackle Gabe Wright, two by freshman end Carl Lawson and two by senior end Dee Ford. The Tigers also had 17 quarterback hurries and 14 tackles for loss.
Junior star Robenson Therezie had the most spectacular defensive play of the season when he intercepted a Wallace pass and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to give Auburn a 13-3 lead. Sophomore linebacker Anthony Swain got the call when Cassanova McKinzy was injured and led the team with eight tackles.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he was proud of the fight his players showed.
"I'm looking at the stat sheet and Anthony Swain is the leading tackler," Johnson said. "He's barely played this year. When Cass got hurt, he stepped up in a big way. We had a lot of that. Even on our bad plays, I thought our guys were in position and they were fighting. They just couldn't make a play on the ball a couple of times.
"Great effort. We played some of our best defense at the pressure times. We really gave up the bad plays when we should have been able to put them to sleep."
Johnson planned to frequently use a 3-3 stack defense that features three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. But the loss of McKinzy, he said, made that impossible.
"We worked very hard on it," Johnson said. "Unfortunately, when Cass got hurt, we didn't have players who had repped it enough for us to feel really comfortable with it. We were getting it done up front in our base. I don't think there were but about two or three snaps of that before we had to pull out of it."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: