Oct. 22, 2013
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford sacked Johnny Manziel twice in the final three plays (USA Today photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – When Texas A&M had been beaten, when the celebration was over and it was time to look forward, when Auburn had jumped to No. 11 in the Associated Press poll and the first BCS standings, senior defensive end Dee Ford had a question:
“We said we wanted to have the biggest turnaround in college football,” Ford said. “Why not win it all?”
On a cool Saturday in College Station, Texas, Ford and his teammates made a resounding statement that they are once again a force to be reckoned with, that misery of last season’s 3-9 collapse will no longer define Auburn football. They stood tall when it mattered most and beat No. 7 Texas A&M 45-41 at Kyle Field.
The Tigers, indeed, have made the biggest turnaround in college football. A year ago, they were 1-6. Today, they are 6-1 overall, 3-1 in the Southeastern Conference and hold their championship fate in their own hands.
At the end, when the game was there to be won, Ford led a defensive charge that turned the Aggies back after they reached the Auburn 18-yard line in the final minute. On fourth down, Ford sacked mercurial quarterback Johnny Manziel to end it.
“I knew at that point I needed to contain Manziel,” said Ford, who had already sacked Manziel on second down. “That last sack is credited to the defense. I knew it was a blitz and they were going to flush him to me. I just needed to make a play. That definitely came from the right side of the blitz and them flushing him to me.”
When they did, Ford shed the offensive tackle who was trying to block him and took Manziel down.
“Priceless,” Ford said. “It was priceless. It was a great feeling.”
Just like that, the Tigers of 2013 were back where generations of football plays have proved again and again that they belong, back where first-year head coach Gus Malzahn convinced them they could be.
“We try to block it out, but I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t know we are No. 11 in the nation,” Ford said. “That’s pretty huge. We definitely want to enjoy the moment, enjoy the feeling and know this is only temporary. We have to keep working, stay focused and keep our composure.
“Malzahn said we’re not going to do anything different. We’re just going to keep working and keep fighting.”
The Tigers return home Saturday as four-touchdown favorites against Florida Atlantic. After that, it will be time for the finishing stretch of road games at Arkansas and Tennessee and home games against traditional rivals Georgia and Alabama.
In the fourth quarter in a stadium so noisy that the ground shook, Auburn’s football team was its best. So it has been all season.
“It says a lot about how much we’ve grown,” Ford said. “We’ve been through a lot. I say this a lot: Everything we went through last year is definitely showing this year. When you persevere through a season like that, you’ve been through nothing worse.”
The Tigers draw on that, Ford said, when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter. They did it again at Texas A&M.
“We just look at each other like our backs are against the wall and we’ve been through worse than this,” Ford said. “We definitely try to deliver in the fourth quarter. That just shows a lot of maturity, a lot of trust and belief we have on this defense and offense. It’s a great environment to play in when your team can trust each other at pivotal times in the game like that.”
Ford saw it coming in the weight room last winter, in spring practice and in the summer. He saw it. He felt it. And he is not surprised.
“It’s a new day,” Ford said. “We are not worried about last year. We will definitely play every game to win it. I think people understand now we really mean business when we say that. We are the same players but a different team from last year.”
Dee and his teammates can earn its way into the SEC Championship Game by finishing the season with four straight SEC wins. And that would undoubtedly also put them squarely in the national championship conversation.
“We went from playing for nothing last year to playing for a lot this year,” Ford said. “I think we come into this thing just trying to keep moving forward. The hardest thing to do is stay consistent.
“We are trying to keep our composure, keep our focus and trying to keep moving forward.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: