Dec. 19, 2013
On the rainy night of Sept. 21, the Auburn locker room at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge was filled with frustrated and even angry football players.
After falling behind LSU 21-0 in the second quarter, the Tigers had fought valiantly back. They had run 48 plays in the second half. By the end of the game, LSU’s defense had been gassed. But the hole had been too deep. Auburn players were convinced they could have, even should have, won the game.
Over the next week, commentators and others nodded knowingly. LSU had let up, they said. It could have been worse. Auburn never had a chance, they said. They apparently didn’t watch the game.
Back in Auburn, with an open date the next Saturday, Auburn coaches huddled. They were 3-1 in Gus Malzahn’s first season. What would be the best way forward? That was question they sought to answer. They decided to focus more on the running game and run more zone read plays. Ironically, that decision came after a game in which quarterback Nick Marshall was effective throwing the ball, particularly deep. It was also a breakout night for tailback Tre Mason, who rushed 26 times for 132 yards. Nine consecutive wins later, it’s clear Auburn's coaches had the right idea.
The Tigers ran right on to the BCS National Championship Game. And here are a dozen reasons why.
* Marshall, fresh out of junior college, has played a level no one could have expected. You can make the case he’s been the best running quarterback in the game. Because he has run the ball and operated the zone read so efficiently, he hasn’t thrown often. It’s been widely overlooked, but when he has thrown, he’s been effective.
* Mason finally has gotten the chance he’d wanted for so long and has made good on it, putting together one of the better seasons in Auburn history and becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist.
* The offensive line, good from the start, has become great. Center Reese Dismukes and left tackle have had All-America seasons.
* Call him a fullback or call him an H-back, but Jay Prosch is an overpowering, dominating blocking back.
* Wide receivers, shaky at the season’s beginning, aren’t shaky now. Sammie Coates is a big-play threat. All of them have grown dramatically as blockers.
* Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has done a masterful job, far better than any statistics will ever show. Auburn has deficiencies on defense, but Johnson has found a way to put players in position to make plays when they are needed most.
* Defensive end Dee Ford has had the best season of his career.
* Defensive line coach Rodney Garner has stuck to his plan to rotate as many as 12 defensive linemen. Young ones like Carl Lawson, Elijah Daniel and Montravius Adams, have gotten better with each game.
* Since the secondary was hit by injuries, seniors Ryan White and Ryan Smith have showed they should have been playing more in years past. Davis, another senior, has been a standout. Robenson Therezie, at the star position, has been an impact player from the first game.
* Speedy running back Corey Grant, finally given a chance, has averaged 10 yards per carry.
* Most of all, Auburn players never stopped believing and never were rattled by circumstances. And they won’t be rattled against Florida State.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: