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Phillip Marshall: 'Normal football' wins for Auburn

Nov. 2, 2013

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema says he believes in “normal American football.” And that’s just what sent him and the Razorbacks to their sixth consecutive loss Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

Auburn threw the ball just nine times in winning 35-17 for its fifth straight win and ran its record to 8-1 overall and 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference. It was Bielema who got tricky. Arkansas tried an onsides kick, threw two halfback passes and even used Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s swinging gate play to make a first down inside the 5-yard line.

Meanwhile, Auburn used the churning legs of tailback Tre Mason, who had a career game with 168 yards and four touchdowns, and the elusiveness of quarterback Nick Marshall, who had 59 yards on nine carries. And for good measure, there was an 88-yard touchdown pass from Marshall to Sammie Coates.

It certainly wasn’t always a thing of beauty for Auburn’s defense. The Tigers gave up too many big running plays and had a terrible time getting off the field on third down until late in the game. But they also had a spectacular goal line stand late in the second quarter when little-used linebacker JaViere Mitchell, who also recovered the onsides kick, made back-to-back stops on third and fourth downs. And the Tigers won the turnover battle 3-0.

For most of the game, it seemed Auburn was about to break away. But Arkansas kept hanging close enough to make it uncomfortable. The first real special teams snafu of the season yielded a kickoff return that set up the touchdown that turned a 28-3 lead into 28-10. Then it got to be 28-17. But Auburn romped back down the field for the touchdown that essentially ended the game.

No doubt, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will be concerned about giving up 222 yards on the ground and 9-of-16 third-down conversions. That won’t work against Georgia or Alabama or even probably next Saturday at Tennessee.

But those concerns were for later. Auburn went where numerous good seasons have gone to die and won by 18 points in a game in which it was favored by only 7 ½. That was enough to make lots of Auburn coaches, starting with Malzahn, and players feel pretty darned good.

Asked at halftime about the gadget plays Arkansas unleashed, Bielema said simply “We’re tired of losing.” But the Razorbacks, inspired though they were, weren’t going to win this game. They weren’t good enough.

And Auburn continued the biggest turnaround in college football this season.

When will it end? Will it end? Who knows? Auburn could lose next Saturday at Tennessee, a far different team at home than on the road. Not much needs be said about the next two – Georgia and Alabama.

Whatever happens, nothing can be taken away from what Malzahn and Auburn players have accomplished. They’ve already done more than almost anyone expected. And with three games left, nothing – not even the national championship – is beyond their reach.

And that is one remarkable story.


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:




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