Dec. 1, 2013
Quarterback Nick Marshall sprints 45 yards for Auburn’s first touchdown against Alabama (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – It started with an 88-yard drive in a 24-20 victory over Mississippi State. Then came a 75-yard drive in a 45-41 victory at Texas A&M and a 73-yard drive in a 43-38 victory over Georgia.
Give Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall the ball with a chance to win in the final minutes and there’s a good chance he’ll do it.
And he did it again Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium as No. 4 Auburn beat No. 1 Alabama 34-28 in the biggest game of all. He finished off a seven-play, 80-yard drive with a 39-yard pass to Sammie Coates with 32 seconds left in the game. Cody Parkey’s extra point tied the score at 28-28, setting the stage for Chris Davis to win it on a 109-yard return of a missed field goal with no time left.
Marshall rushed 17 times for 99 yards, including a 45-yard sprint to Auburn’s first touchdown. He completed 11-of-16 passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
Marshall’s first Iron Bowl, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said, might have been his finest hour.
“Nick has played some good games this year, but I think you’d have a hard time finding a better one than that,” Lashlee said. “I know he only threw for 97 yards, but he was very efficient throwing it. I’m really proud of him.”
Marshall’s ability to run on Alabama’s defense opened the way for the game-tying touchdown pass. Running to his left, Marshall turned upfield. Just before he got to the line of scrimmage, he shifted the ball from his left hand to his right and threw to the wide-open Coates.
“It’s a play we’ve run a lot,” Lashlee said. “He’s got three options. He can give it to Tre, he can keep it and run it or the third option is we’ve added an element where he can throw it. You don’t get it often. We’ve been saying the last couple of weeks we were due to get it at some point. That last drive, we could sort of feel them coming off. That’s why we kept running the ball just a little bit there at the end.
“It was a great play by Nick, because he’d already tucked the ball and started running it. He saw the corner come off at the last second and got the ball to Sammie.”
It was the last play in a game in which Auburn’s offense did things it wasn’t supposed to be able to do.
Alabama was giving up just 91 yards per game rushing. Auburn got 297. Alabama had gone nine games without giving up more than two touchdowns and had given up one or less in eight of those games. Auburn scored four on offense.
Marshall ran on Alabama as he has run on others. So did tailback Tre Mason, who had 164 yards rushing and scored a touchdown.
“Our gameplan coming in was to do what got us here,” Lashlee said. “We knew we were going to have to make plays in the passing game. We weren’t clueless to that. Obviously, they are a great defensive team, but looking at film it seemed like teams tried to do things that were out of character, kind of giving them credit before the game even started.
“We said ‘You know what? This is what got us here. We are going to do what we do best.’ To rush for basically 300 yards on these guys is, well, my hat’s off to our kids.”
But Lashlee made it clear he was not surprised.
“I felt like we were the better team and we were going to win the game if we didn’t beat ourselves,” Lashlee said. “That’s how it turned out.”
Auburn led 7-0 after the first quarter, but Alabama responded with three unanswered touchdowns to take a 21-7 lead late in the second quarter. The second one came after Mason fumbled at the Auburn 36.
With the game seemingly getting away, Auburn started from its own 19 with 3:42 left. And Mason took the field on a mission.
Running with fury into the teeth of the Alabama defense, he had runs of 8, 40, 10, 6 and 1 yards on consecutive carries. After Marshall ran 15 yards to the 1, Mason took it in to cut Alabama’s lead to 21-14.
After falling behind 21-14, Auburn outscored Alabama 27-7 the rest of the way to improve to 11-1 overall, 7-1 in the Southeastern Conference and advance to the SEC Championship Game against Missouri next Saturday.
Auburn players, Lashlee promised, will be ready with another big effort.
“It’s a great honor to get to go to the SEC championship game and represent the West,” Lashlee said. “Our guys have won big games this year and they’ve responded. Every time we’ve asked our guys to do something, they’ve responded. We are really going to enjoy this one tonight and go back to work Sunday.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: