Nov. 29, 2013
There's been no stopping Auburn's Tre Mason this season (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. - Tre Mason, Nick Marshall, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne have helped Auburn to the top of the SEC rushing charts and to No. 2 in the nation in running the football.
The Four Horsemen? The Runaway Offense?
"We don't really have nicknames for it. We just want to be the most dangerous, powerful offense in the country," Mason said.
Auburn will try to do what it does best in the Iron Bowl on Saturday in a classic matchup between the most prolific running game in the SEC against the league's top-ranked defense in Alabama. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. on CBS in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn hasn't faced a defensive like Alabama's. Conversely, Alabama hasn't faced a running game like Auburn's. Mason doesn't have a name for Auburn's offense, but it does say it is "fast-paced, dangerous and versatile. We can run the ball, and if you load the box, we'll throw it up top with Sammie Coates."
Ricardo Louis, too.
Auburn has lived by the run, but it has shown it can pass in last-minute comeback wins. Nick Marshall was 6-of-8 passing in the final drive, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah, to carry Auburn past Mississippi State 24-20 on Sept 14. Marshall hit 3-of-5 passes, including his now-famous 73-yard touchdown pass to Louis with 25 seconds left to beat Georgia 43-38 on Nov. 16. Marshall hit 1-of-3 passes in a final drive that featured 10 runs that helped beat Texas A&M 45-41 on Oct. 19. Mason's 5-yard touchdown run with 1:19 left set up that win.
Marshall has progressed through the season, and now his ability to execute to the zone-read offense has him at 823 yards rushing and 1,530 yards passing. His 214 yards rushing against Tennessee is the most by an SEC player this season and the third-best total by an Auburn quarterback in history. His 339 yards passing against Mississippi State was the highest total by an Auburn quarterback in three years.
"His level of play has brought us to be 10-1 right now," Mason said. "He's dangerous on his feet and he's also got a strong arm, so that's just set us apart from last year to this year."
Mason has rushed for 1,153 yards this season. He made the 1,000-yard mark on the final play of the game against Alabama last season in an otherwise forgettable day for the Tigers, who lost 49-0. Mason remembers that as "not too much execution going on on our side of the ball.
"That's what we're going to change in this game. We're going to execute our offense. We feel confident in what we do."
Auburn has scored at least 30 points in seven straight games, the best streak since 1994.
"We're ready. We're excited. We're just looking forward to getting to Saturday. Everybody's anxious and ready to play. We can't wait."
But Mason knows a challenge awaits against Alabama.
"They're a great football team. They're sure tacklers. They don't miss too many tackles. We have to make much of the opportunities that we're given," he said.
Auburn's first option is the run.
"I'm pretty sure everyone knows that," Mason said.
"We've been running it all year and the O-line has been blocking great. Those guys up front are playing as one, doing their job identifying who they have to identify and I just have to continue doing my job."
It is Mason who has mentioned numerous times the Tigers have followed one of Gus Malzahn's earliest speeches, the one about Auburn having the biggest turnaround in college football. The Tigers have flipped last year's 3-9 season to 10-1 heading into Saturday.
It's a long way from last year's loss in Tuscaloosa. Mason has not forgotten.
"I don't really get tired of it because that's what kept us motivated," Mason said. "I like hearing about it...keeps us reminded about what happened last season. It's going to keep us fired up."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine