Dec. 4, 2013
Auburn's Tre Mason goes for some of his 164 yards against Alabama (AP/Dave Martin)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn's football practices are closed to the public and media during the week. Ah, but on Saturdays, those Saturdays, Auburn's game plan is no secret at all.
The Tigers' offense has been on the run all season, and that will likely be the first option again when Auburn faces Missouri in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in Atlanta at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Want to know a secret? Missouri will try to run, too. Auburn and Missouri are 1-2 in the SEC in rushing.
The Tigers will take to the game the SEC's No. 1 rusher in Tre Mason and the No. 1 running quarterback in Nick Marshall.
"Pretty much every game this year we've had success running the football," said Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
How committed is Auburn to running? What did it do on its final offensive series against Alabama and the SEC's top defense against the run? What did it do when it was racing the clock to try to tie the game when neither Auburn nor Alabama fans could breathe?
While the rest of the world was glancing at the clock after every play, with time slipping to two minutes remaining, then one, Auburn handed off to Mason six straight times before Marshall faked a run, pulled up and threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates with 32 seconds left to tie the game at 28-all. You may recall Auburn won the game on the final play when Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 100 yards for the 34-28 victory.
Auburn's will to run against better teams was on full display in November, and the skill and reputation of the opponent did not matter. The Tigers ran for 323 yards against Georgia when it was ranked fourth in the SEC in run defense; and it ran for 296 yards against Alabama's top-ranked defense, three times as many yards as the Tide was allowing.
Missouri is the No. 2-ranked run defense in the league, and it probably knows what's coming in the Georgia Dome.
Auburn is first in the SEC, and third in the nation, in rushingl thanks to Marshall in his quick decisions and Mason and his drive.
"With a great running back like him, you get him started, good things are going to happen," Lashlee said. "That's our challenge this week because of the way Missouri's defensive line is, they're very disruptive. We're going to have to be as good as ever up front of staying on those down guys, giving him a chance."
Lashlee said talked up his offensive line, too.
"They've done a really good job on the first level not giving up penetration, getting movement at the point of attack," Lashlee said. So much so that Marshall, Mason, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne have quickly moved "three, four or five yards down the field," Lashlee said. "A lot of the credit goes to our kids, the guys up front. We've challenged them each week to play physical Auburn football and I think they've done that."
Marshall has been the guy who has made the run game go, especially once he perfected the zone-read, making a decision whether to keep it or hand off.
"You look at all the teams that are winning and who is most valuable to their team, I don't think you can say any more about Nick than what he's been able to do to get us to where we're at," Lashlee said. "He's no question our team leader, our guys believe in him and he just seems to make play after play after play. The other night, no turnovers, three touchdowns against, at the time, the No. 1 defense and the No. 1 team in the country. And big-time plays when we needed them: a third-down, 45-yard touchdown run, a second-down touchdown pass that can't be thrown any better and, of course, with 32 seconds left, a touchdown pass to tie the game. I don't know what all you've got to do, but I'm proud of him, he's getting better and he's obviously much more confident. He'd be the first to tell you he's more worried about winning this week."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine