Auburn Wins SEC 59-42 Over Missouri

10:16 PM, Dec 7, 2013   |    comments
The Auburn Tigers play in confetti after defeating the Missouri Tigers in the 2013 SEC Championship game at Georgia Dome. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
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Dan Wolken, USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA - From last to first. From winless in the Southeastern Conference to confetti-splashed champions. From dysfunction to destiny.

The story of Auburn's turnaround was too improbable to dream, too unbelievable to ever see coming. But with Gus Malzahn, a relentless running attack and a couple last-minute miracles, it happened. The question now: How far will it go?

No. 3 Auburn wrapped up the SEC title against No. 5 Missouri on Saturday, 59-42, in a Georgia Dome painted with orange and blue and littered with the remnants of shattered records. But in the wake of Auburn's celebration, there was uncertainty. Will Saturday's victory be enough for the 12-1 Tigers, with wins over two of the top five teams in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll, to jump Ohio State or Florida State and play for the BCS title?

"I'm not gonna be nervous," Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said. "I mean, the facts are the facts. Look at strength of schedule. Nobody else ahead of us or behind us has beaten five top-25 teams (in the BCS standings) and nobody has beaten two top-five teams (Alabama and Missouri) in a week's time. But here's the thing. Regardless of what happens, if we go to the Sugar Bowl we're have a big old time and the entire Auburn family's coming."

Auburn's national championship hopes, of course, were the primary topic of conversation in the immediate aftermath of the SEC championship. But the subplot was pretty good, too.
A league known for conservative offense and brutal defense was turned on its head this season, ending with the ultimate victory by a team that piled up 677 yards and shamed a Missouri defense that knew exactly what was coming and still couldn't stop it.

In a wild game with huge momentum swings, long touchdown plays and very few moments of brilliance for either defense, Auburn could finally feel comfortable with 4:27 left when cornerback Chris Davis - otherwise known as the man who beat Alabama with a 109-yard field goal return last week - knocked down a pass to Dorial Green-Beckham on fourth down. With a 10-point lead, Auburn added its exclamation point on the next play as running back Tre Mason finished off the game of his life with a 13-yard touchdown.

Mason finished with 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries, thrusting himself into the Heisman Trophy conversation. In total, Auburn's running game accounted for 545 yards - and it came against a Missouri team that hadn't given up more than 28 points this season and was ranked 14th in the country against the run.

Though Auburn couldn't be stopped, there were plenty of tense moments - especially with 11:09 remaining when Mason bullied into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line. That put Auburn ahead 52-42, a lead that only seemed safe when it forced Missouri to go three-and-out on the next possession.

Up until that point, Missouri had an answer for everything Auburn threw at it in a breathless game played at warp speed.

A 10-yard touchdown pass from James Franklin to tailback Marcus Murphy gave Missouri a 34-31 lead with 5:35 remaining in the third quarter. Then Auburn pushed back in front just 2:14 later, popping big runs by Mason and a 42-yarder by Marshall for a 38-34 lead.

And just when it appeared Auburn was ready to roll toward its third SEC title in the last 10 years, taking a 45-34 lead, here came Missouri, needing just 22 seconds to respond with a touchdown and a two-point conversion to pull within a field goal.

It wasn't your classic SEC game, but for Auburn - which went 0-8 in the league last season under Gene Chizik and 3-9 overall - the picture keeps getting prettier each week.

"All I can explain is since I got there, how our team bought into what we asked them to do and has gotten better and better and better," Malzahn said. "It's very hard to explain. After the season, we'll look back and there are a lot of things to be proud of. We're playing our best football, and I don't know if a lot of teams around the country can say that."

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