By Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
The Auburn offense has been prolific in 2013, most notably in the running game.
Coming into Saturday night’s Southeastern Conference Championship Game, the Tigers (12-1) led the league in rushing and ranked fifth in the nation in that category with an average of 318.2 yards per game on the ground. The combination of running back Tre Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall alone had accounted for 2,239 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns on 6.1 yards per carry.
Missouri (11-2), like every other team that lined up against AU, knew what the strength of the Auburn offense was. And like every other team that lined up against AU, Mizzou was unable to stop the freight train that is the Auburn rushing attack.
Despite excelling against the run all season long – Mizzou’s defense ranked second in the SEC in rush yards allowed and yards per carry allowed, and top-15 nationally in rushing ‘D’ – Missouri had absolutely no answer for Auburn’s ground game. Gary Pinkel’s Tigers were gashed throughout the game, allowing Auburn to churn out a staggering 544 rushing yards on the ground.
Auburn was averaging 6.3 yards per carry as a team coming into Atlanta and proceeded to rip off 7.5 yards per rush on 73 attempts against Mizzou. In the first half alone, AU ran for 281 yards on 7.4 yards per carry, with Mason racking up 194 yards and a pair of touchdowns on his own. In just two quarters of play, Mason had positioned himself within seven yards of the SEC Championship Game record for rushing yards set by LSU’s Justin Vincent in 2003 - a record he would eventually shatter later in the night.
By the time the game had ended, Mason’s stat line had ballooned to 303 yards and four touchdowns, shattering Vincent’s record and possibly catapulting himself into the Heisman discussion all within a span of just 60 minutes of football.
The Tigers were so effective moving the ball on the ground that they only attempted 11 passes on the evening. Marshall made the most of his limited opportunities, throwing for 12 yards per attempt and hitting Sammie Coates with on a beautiful 38-yard scoring strike in the first quarter, but Gus Malzahn’s offense simply did not need to go to the air often due its ridiculous efficiency on the ground.
Missouri was able to hang tough throughout most of the game, riding the shoulders of James Franklin, Henry Josey and Dorial Green-Beckham, all of whom performed well in the spotlight for the Tigers from Columbia, Mo. The Mizzou defense was simply not able to keep pace, however, as the relentless Auburn attack kept it on its heels all night long and eventually exhausted it.
Auburn churned out 263 yards on the ground in the second half, with Mason tacking on a pair of touchdowns to help AU outscore Missouri 14-0 in the final quarter. When it was all said and done, Auburn had outgained Mizzou by 313 yards on the ground and had notched its best rushing game of the season.
The Missouri Tigers, who fought admirably in a high-scoring thriller inside the Georgia Dome, saw their BCS hopes likely come to an end in Atlanta. While Auburn received contributions from all over the field, including from a defense that came up with big stops in the fourth quarter despite allowing over 500 yards, but the bulk of the credit goes to the Auburn rushing attack, which dictated the game and dominated.
Just as it has all season long.