By Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Southeastern Conference will have a chance to extend its unprecedented run of dominance on Jan. 6 when No. 2 Auburn takes on top-ranked Florida State in the 2014 Vizio BCS National Championship Game.
The Tigers (12-1) entered this season as unlikely candidates to carry on the championship torch for the SEC after a 3-9 campaign in 2012. But first-year head coach Gus Malzahn has the Auburn offense clicking on all cylinders after returning to The Plains, and the Tigers’ monumental turnaround could become legendary with one more victory in Pasadena.
While Auburn enters the title game as college football’s hottest team, they will have to go through a dominant Florida State (13-0) side to obtain the crystal ball. FSU has run through its 2013 schedule without much resistance, outscoring its opponents by a combined total of 689-139, an average score of 53.0 to 10.7.
Although the ’Noles enter Pasadena ranked atop college football, that will hardly deter an Auburn squad that just recently knocked off a No. 1 team with its Nov. 30 victory over Alabama. Despite crossing paths with two of the SEC’s toughest run defenses in its last two outings, Auburn has charged like a freight train en route to 841 combined rushing yards against Alabama and Missouri.
The Seminoles know they’ll see more of the same from Auburn on Monday night.
“They've done an outstanding job over the course of the year,” said FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. “They've been really stubborn about it. They're going to run the football. Everybody knows they're going to run the football, and you've got to be able to stop them.”
While Florida State enters Pasadena with a healthy respect for the offensive attack it will face against Auburn, the Tigers know they’ll be facing one of the nation’s best defenses as well. Auburn center Reese Dismukes commended FSU’s defense for its great play this year, but he and the Tigers remain confident in their ability to run the football under the leadership of Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
“I mean, we kind of just stick to what we do, and that's run the football,” Dismukes said. “Coach Malzahn and Coach Lashlee, they do a great job of putting us in the best situation with the right plays and that kind of thing. We stick to our guns, and like Coach Grimes said every week we're going to put the saddles on your back and ride you out to the end of the game. We've just done that and stuck to it, and why stop it when it's working.”
Auburn running back Tre Mason, who has rushed for over 1,600 yards this season, said that he sees a lot of similarities between FSU’s defense and that of Alabama, which is a product of Pruitt working under Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa prior to his arrival in Tallahassee this year.
“They run a lot of schemes similar to Alabama’s scheme,” Mason said. “That's a great defense. They have great talent on their plays. But I feel we're going to go into the game doing what we do and doing what got us here.”
FSU comes into the game ranked in the top 15 nationally against the run, so the Tigers will once again have to prove their mettle against a stout rushing defense. Likewise, the Tigers will be tasked with stopping a high-powered, Jimbo Fisher-led offense from Tallahassee that has rallied off 53 points per contest this season while leading the nation in yards per play (7.8).
While Auburn’s defense ranked 10th in the SEC in total D, the Tigers have been stingy in the red zone, which will be huge against an FSU offense that has registered points on 97.1 percent of its red zone trips in 2013, including a 79.7 percent touchdown rate.
The matchups across the field indicate that the final BCS Championship Game could be a great one. No matter how those matchups shake out, both teams enter the title game on a roll and each is capable of scoring in bunches.
Kickoff from the Rose Bowl is set for 8:30 p.m. Eastern Monday on ESPN, when one team will end its season with the ultimate prize.
The BCS National Championship Game Presented by Vizio will mark the 19th meeting between Auburn and Florida State on the football field…Auburn has owned the series historically, holding a 13-4-1 advantage over the Seminoles…The first meeting between AU and FSU occurred on Oct. 23, 1954, and the most recent meeting took place on Oct. 20, 1990…Florida State is 1-0 in the series when the game is played on a neutral field.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
1990 – Auburn 20, Florida State 17 (Auburn, Ala.)
1989 – Florida State 22, Auburn 14 (Tallahassee, Fla.)
1988 – Florida State 13, Auburn 7 (New Orleans, La.)
1987 – Florida State 34, Auburn 6 (Auburn, Ala.)
1985 – Auburn 59, Florida State 27 (Auburn, Ala.)
A LOOK AT THE LAST MEETING
The last meeting between Auburn and FSU took place more than two decades ago, and the Tigers were able to overcome a halftime deficit to defeat the Seminoles by a final score of 20-17 in Auburn on Oct. 20, 1990. Florida State used a touchdown run from Edgar Bennett and a scoring strike from Casey Weldon to Amp Lee to seize a 17-7 advantage after two quarters, but the Tigers clamped down after the break and pulled out the victory thanks to two second half field goals from Jim Von Wyl and a 2-yard touchdown plunge from Stacy Danley in the fourth quarter.
PLAYMAKERS – OFFENSE
Auburn – Tre Mason, Junior, Running Back
Mason has been the focal point of Auburn’s rushing attack, which has been the best in the country this season. The junior from Palm Beach, Fla., has been a consistent producer for the Tigers, but most notably down the home stretch of the regular season. In his last five outings, Mason has torn off an astounding 868 yards on 5.6 yards per carry and found the end zone 13 times. For the season, he’s churned out 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns, which ranks fourth among all backs in college football. Mason’s performance against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game was one for the ages, as he carried 46 times for 304 yards and four scores, and Mizzou simply had no answer. FSU boasts the country’s third best rush defense, so strength will meet strength in Pasadena. So far, however, that strength has prevailed in every game for Auburn, as evidenced by its combined 6.67-yard per carry average against two of the SEC’s best run defenses in Alabama and Mizzou.
Florida State – Jameis Winston, Redshirt Freshman, Quarterback
Winston had not started a collegiate game entering this season after redshirting in 2012, but he’s played like a seasoned veteran in 2013 for Florida State. The newly crowned Heisman Trophy winner has been the nation’s most efficient passer with a rating of 190.06, and his 10.9 yards per attempt is also a national best. His season passing totals – 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns – are a big reason why FSU enters its showdown with Auburn averaging 53 points per game and ranked at or near the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference in a number of offensive categories. The Auburn defense has allowed teams to rack up yardage, but it has been stout in the red zone when it counts the most. The Tigers will have to account for a slew of weapons at the skill positions when they face the ’Noles, and it all starts with Winston in the driver’s seat.
PLAYMAKERS – DEFENSE
Auburn – Tigers’ Defensive Backfield
As mentioned previously, the Auburn defense has allowed its share of yards and big plays this season. In Atlanta on Dec. 2, Auburn struggled to defend Mizzou’s trio of wide-outs, most notably Dorial Green-Beckham, who snagged six passes for 144 yards and two scores. Against FSU, the Auburn secondary, which is comprised of corners Jonathan Mincy and Chris Davis, safeties Jermaine Whitehead and Ryan Smith, and hybrid defensive back/linebacker Robenson Therezie, will face another trio of talented pass catchers. Like Green-Beckham, FSU’s Kelvin Benjamin possesses size (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) and athleticism that gives defenses nightmares, and he’s flanked by Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw, two experienced playmakers in their own right. The three have combined for 169 receptions, 2,867 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2013, so the collective defensive backfield from Auburn will have to execute to slow down the FSU passing attack, which does not rely too heavily on any one receiver and is complemented by a versatile pass-catching tight end in Nick O’Leary.
Florida State – Mario Edwards Jr., Sophomore, Defensive End
Florida State’s defense has playmakers all over the field, but the most important Seminole defender in this game may be defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr. The 6-foot-3, 277-pounder excels in stopping the run, which is what Auburn’s Gus Malzahn predicates his offensive attack on. Auburn employs a heavy dose of zone read plays, which quarterback Nick Marshall excels at executing, and Edwards will be a key for FSU in defending those plays and the many variations that the Tigers break out. Edwards is a powerful player that is able to hold at the point of attack and effectively shed blockers, and he plays opposite of fellow end Christian Jones, who also defends the zone read well. If the duo is able to do that against Auburn, the Seminoles will have a much better shot at slowing down the AU attack. If they get too far up field or get washed down inside, however, the Tigers will be able to run the ball effectively against FSU’s front.
• At 12-1, Auburn has posted the biggest turnaround in the nation this season (3-9 in 2012), the biggest ever turnaround in SEC history (+7 conference wins) and tied for the biggest improvement in the NCAA record books (8.5 games by Hawaii from 1999 to 2000).
• Florida State hasn’t trailed in a game in 571 minutes and 49 seconds – since Chad Abram caught a 10-yard TD pass to tie the game at 17-17 with 1:49 left in the second quarter at Boston College on Sept. 28.
• Auburn, Florida State and Ole Miss have the nation’s longest active bowl win streaks at five.
• Auburn has a 22-13-2 all-time record in bowl games. The Tigers are 4-8 all-time when facing the nation’s No. 1 team, with their most recent win over a top-ranked foe coming this year against Alabama on Nov. 30.
• Florida State has four wins over teams ranked in the top 25 in 2013 by a combined score of 200-35.
• Auburn is 5-3-1 historically in games involving two top-10 teams.
• Auburn is 11-8-2 (.571) all-time in January games.
• Auburn has won 88 consecutive games when scoring 30 or more points.