Oct. 26, 2013
AUBURN, Ala. - Barring a meltdown of epic proportions, Auburn wasn't going to lose to Florida Atlantic on Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium. But for these Tigers in this season, winning wasn't going to be enough.
This night was about more than getting the seventh win in a season that most prognosticators believed to be bound for nowhere. It was about continuing the march that started all the way back in January. It was about taking another stop toward the destiny the men who play for Auburn believe is theirs
It came a week after a stirring 45-41 victory at Texas A&M and a week before a trip to Arkansas for the first of four consecutive Southeastern Conference games. It would have been an easy game to take for granted, an easy week to not be focused at practice.
But that's not what the Tigers of 2013 are about. They got ready and they took care of business, pulling away early for a 45-10 victory.
"Honestly, I was a little worried about it," said Scott Fountain, who coaches the H-backs and special teams. "But when we had our walkthrough (Saturday) morning, I could tell they were focused and locked in."
So locked in were they that they led 21-0 with 6:54 still left in the first quarter and 28-0 with 13:55 left in the second quarter. The game was as good as over then. Florida Atlantic had no answer for Auburn's running back combo of Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant.
Not everything was joyful. Quarterback Nick Marshall went down with a shoulder injury early in the second quarter and did not return. Head coach Gus Malzahn didn't seem overly concerned after the game, but then again, he didn't really know the prognosis either.
"He was on the sideline smiling and having a good time in the second half," Malzahn said.
Freshman Jeremy Johnson came on and was lights out. He completed a 36-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates on his first play and later hit him with a 67-yard touchdown pass.
Marshall's status will be the subject of much talk over the next week. Johnson is a good quarterback who is going to be great, but he's a freshman who will also make freshman mistakes. The Tigers need for Marshall to be healthy.
And then there were two Florida Atlantic possessions - the last one of the first half and first one of the second half - that led to all the Owls' points. It seemed a strange lapse for a defense that had stymied the Owls almost totally before and after.
But the defense got tough again and the Tigers went and got another touchdown. After that, with waves of backups going into the game, it was really just a matter of getting the game over with. As he did two weeks ago in a 62-3 victory over Western Carolina, Malzahn tried hard not to score for the last quarter and a half.
In the end, Auburn broke the 600-yard barrier for the third consecutive week and rushed for a gaudy 422 yards. FAU managed just 247 yards total offense.
Malzahn said he was proud of the focus and proud of the effort. And then it was time to move on to bigger things. Arkansas, where Malzahn was once a wide receiver and later was offensive coordinator, waits. Malzahn will return to his home state, where he coached Arkansas State just last season and was a high school coaching legend as recently as 2005. It'll be a big day for him. It'll be a big day for running backs coach Tim Horton, who played at Arkansas and was coaching there just a year ago.
Mainly it will be big because it will be yet another opportunity to take another step toward a goal that gets closer with every win.
Only Auburn and Alabama control their own destinies in the West. As the 2012 Auburn team walked off the field after a 49-0 loss to Alabama and even after this season started, who would have believed that would be the case eight games into the season?
No one can say for sure where the journey of 2013 will end for Auburn. But on a cool Saturday night, they did it the right way yet again.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: