Dec. 7, 2013
Auburn celebrates SEC championship, but the Tigers are finished with this season (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
ATLANTA -- Auburn's dream season will surely now take the Tigers to Pasadena to play for the BCS national championship.
Auburn smashed Missouri 59-42 to win the Southeastern Conference championship Saturday evening, then sat back and watched Michigan State knock off No. 2 Ohio State 34-24 in the Big 10 championship game. The BCS title game will certainly feature Auburn, ranked No. 3 Saturday, against No. 1 Florida State, which blew out Duke in the ACC title game.
The BCS announcement will be made Sunday.
Auburn made it this far thanks to Tre Mason, who kept running and running and running, and didn't stop until Auburn won the SEC title in the Georgia Dome.
Mason rushed for an SEC title game-record 304 yards and four touchdowns and the Tigers sent a message that it was worthy of BCS title game consideration with a rousing 59-42 victory over Missouri before a roaring Auburn crowd. It was Auburn's second SEC championship in the last four years.
Auburn's strategy was simple: Give the ball to Tre Mason a school-record 46 times and watch him go.
"Whoever has the hot hand we go with," said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. "Tre wanted the football. You could see the look in his eye: 'Give me the football.'"
So Auburn did, leaving Missouri and its coach perplexed after a game in which in which the Tigers smashed to a championship-game 677 total yards. Auburn, in its last four games, scored 55 on Tennessee, 43 on Georgia, 34 on Alabama and 59 on Missouri, leaving someone to ask Missouri's Gary Pinkel the best way to stop the Tigers.
"You know what? I'm the wrong person to ask," Pinkel said.
The Tigers smashed all sorts of SEC Championship Game offensive records in improving to 12-1 overall, a stunning turnaround from last season's 3-9 struggles. Missouri fell to 11-2. Auburn left the game hoping to play in the BCS title game. Auburn's argument goes something like this: Auburn has beaten five ranked teams, Auburn beaten three teams that were ranked in the Top 10 when they played; Auburn has the best strength of schedule among the top six teams.
But that was voters and computers to sort out. Tre Mason did his calculating on the football field.
Mason was just as strong at the end of the game as the beginning. He scored two of his touchdowns in the fourth quarter to finally put Missouri away.
"You're looking at one of the top running backs in college football, and he proved it again today," said Auburn's Gus Malzahn.
Auburn smashed Missouri's rush defense for 545 yards. Missouri was No. 2 in the SEC and No. 14 nationally in rushing defense. Auburn wasn't impressed. The Tigers finished with those 677 yards of total offense with Mason. The last plays before Auburn took a knee on the last snap? More Mason. But he said he wasn't tired.
"Not at all. I didn't even think about fatigue at that point in time...Just not quitting until the clock said zero," Mason said.
Mason led the way on a huge Auburn day. Even Cody Parkey broke the SEC Championship Game record with a 52-yard field goal.
Mason had a remarkable first half: 190 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, then just six yards short of the championship game record set by LSU's Justin Vincent in 2003. He just kept pouring it on in the second half.
He needed two runs into the second half to become the record holder.
The first half had plenty of big stats: Marshall hit 6-of-6 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. But both teams played at such a frantic pace that every touchdown was answered with another.
The first series of the game ended in a punt. How could that have been? The two teams ran up and down the field after that, settling with a 28-27 Auburn halftime lead, but not before the teams combined for 680 yards with two quarters still to play.
Auburn had 376 yards of those, including 282 rushing yards, close enough to Alabama's record SEC Championship full-game total of 350 set last year.
What happened? Lots of these: Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown and more touchdowns and an occasional field goal or two.
Missouri scored first on a 42-yard Andrew Baggett field goal. Then everything broke loose.
Marshall threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates, but Missouri's James Franklin threw a 28-yard TD pass to Dorial Green-Beckham. Then Marshall scored from the 9 to make it 14-10 Auburn at the end of the first quarter.
An opportunistic E.J. Gaines scooped up a Marshall fumble and scored from 11 yards out, but Mason answered with a 7-yard TD run to make it 21-17 Auburn. But things were still just heating up. Baggett hit a 36-yard field goal before Mason scored again, this time from the 3 for a 28-20 lead with 6:26 left in the second quarter. Missouri got the ball back 70 seconds left, and that was plenty of time to score again. Franklin threw a 55-yard TD pass to Green-Beckham with 18 seconds left in the half.
Whew. Everybody tried to catch their breath then.
Not Auburn. It scored two third-quarter touchdowns on a Corey Grant 2-yard run and a 15-yard run by Cameron Artis-Payne. The Tigers kept it up in the fourth quarter, too.