Dec. 26, 2013
Auburn defensive tackle Gabe Wright sacks Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace (Todd Van Emst photo)
Fifth in a series of stories on Auburn's journey to the BCS National Championship Game.
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – How would Auburn’s football team respond? That was the question as Auburn, coming off a bye week, prepared to play No. 24 Ole Miss at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Oct. 5.
Two weeks earlier, Auburn had suffered its first loss under first-year head coach Gus Malzahn, falling 35-21 at LSU. Ole Miss, after opening with wins over Vanderbilt on the road, Southeast Missouri State at home and Texas on the road had suffered its first loss a week earlier, 25-0 at Alabama. But even the loss to Alabama had not been a total downer. The Rebels had been in the game until the fourth quarter, despite passing up three field goal opportunities.
The answer wasn’t long in coming.
Auburn drove 80 yards in six plays on its first possession, with Tre Mason going in from the 1 for the touchdown. After Ole Miss kicked a field goal to cut it to 7-3 and got the ball back, Robenson Therezie intercepted a Bo Wallace pass and ran 78 yards for a touchdown to make it 13-3.
That’s where quarterback Nick Marshall took over. He ran 14 times for 140 yards as Auburn took a 27-9 lead in the third quarter. Ole Miss cut it to 27-22 in the fourth quarter, but a 23-yard Cody Parkey field goal with 3:02 left sealed Auburn’s 30-22 victory. The Tigers improved to 4-1 on the season.
It was a coming out party for Auburn’s defensive front. The Tigers sacked Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace six times. Freshman defensive end Carl Lawson had two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss.
Auburn’s new emphasis on the running game, particularly the zone read, paid dividends. The Tigers rushed for 282 yards and outgained the Rebels 464 yards to 375 in a game that was more lopsided than the score. It was Auburn’s first win over a ranked team since Oct. 1, 2011, when it won 16-13 at No. 10 South Carolina.
"We talked about getting better each week,” Malzahn said. “We knew we were going to have to play better than we did against LSU to have a chance to beat them, and we did. There were some mistakes that we can still improve, a few turnovers we have to correct. Our defense picked us up right there, and we beat a good team."
The Tigers were on their way to nine consecutive wins that would vault them to the Southeastern Conference Championship and into the Jan. 6 BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6.
Malzahn saw the read option become a central part of Auburn’s offense, leading to Marshall’s big day. And he liked it.
"I think he is really talented with the read option,” Malzahn said. “There's a lot of pressure on defenses when we can execute it. There was some pretty good blocking at the point of attack on a lot of those runs, too."
In another sign of things to come, Marshall said the offensive line was the key to Auburn’s running success.
"I'd say that we played really well,” Marshall said. “Our offensive line blocked really well and myself, Tre and the other backs were able to make plays with our legs, find the hole and get yardage."
Sophomore linebacker Anthony Swain, pressed into his first significant playing time of the season in relief of injured Cassanova McKinzy, led the team with eight tackles. Defensive end Dee Ford and defensive tackle Gabe Wright had two sacks apiece.
It was a difficult night for Malzahn, who counts Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze among his close friends. Both cut their coaching teeth in high school before rapidly ascending in the college ranks.
"I have a lot of respect for Hugh,” Malzahn said. “He's one of the best in the business. His team is one of the up and coming teams. He's done a great job with the program. I just told him good luck. He is a good friend of mine, and I'm glad that game is over."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: