Auburn and Missouri emerge for Atlanta

Auburn and Missouri emerge for Atlanta
December 2, 2013, 8:45 am
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The final week of the regular season of college football proved to be the best of the season with the finish in the Iron Bowl to be remembered forever.

I could not do it justice giving it a name or title only that the first word that came to my mind was “Unbelievable.” The ebb and flow of that game was one that would make the casual fans hear race. The Alabama Crimson Tide had a couple of opportunities to put the game away but could not and ultimately lost on a dramatic short field goal.

Auburn deserves a lot of credit for digging deep on fourth-and-1 to stop T.J. Yeldon and for blocking the final field goal attempt by Cade Foster. Gus Malzahn and his staff deserve credit for getting Chris Davis into the game on the 57-yard field goal try.  This Auburn team has won three games this season in the final 30 seconds of the game and just knows how to find a way, and now the Tigers are on to the SEC title game.

The opponent is 11-1 Missouri who defeated Texas A&M 28-21 while holding Johnny Manziel to his lowest total yardage output of the season at 216 yards.

The Missouri Tigers may feel like a team of destiny themselves, having improved their scoring defense from a season ago to 19.4 points per game which is 14th best in the country and they are plus-15 in the turnover margin on the season.

The return of James Franklin has also spiked the Missouri running game as he ran for 80 yards against the Aggies while Henry Josey notched 96 including the game winner from 57 yards. The Tigers trailed at halftime for the first time all season but came right out to even things up in the third quarter. The win gives Gary Pinkel 101 in his career and is the second time the Tigers have won 11 under his leadership.

Second Guessing

I would not second guess Nick Saban as he said his guy has made them from 60 in practice. What was such a strange “affect” on this game was the ineffectiveness of Foster.  He had made 11 in a row coming into the game; however the pressure proved to be too much for him. The one thing I would question would be the play calling by Doug Nussmeier with under six minutes to play and up seven.

The Crimson Tide did not get the first down on third-and-1 rushing Yeldon. The offensive line was getting whipped by a physical Auburn front. Why not put the game in AJ McCarron’s hands on fourth-and-1 if you’re not going to try a field goal? He is your best clutch player and you could certainly get the tight end open on a fourth-and- 1 play pass, right?

Auburn ran for 296 yards but for my money the play of the game is the zone read-option pass from Nick Marshall to Sammie Coates for a 39-yard touchdown. This wrinkle required great discipline by the quarterback and is basically indefensible. The one thing I noticed about Malzahn and his play calling is that he stays with what works and ran the same package of plays out of different sets and formations. The up-tempo was also something Bama could never get a handle on during the game.

Texas A&M has not looked like the same team over the past two weeks, and while LSU and Missouri deserve credit, I believe Manziel was playing hurt. He injured his shoulder against Auburn then his thumb a few weeks later. His accuracy was not very good and he seems to have lost some velocity off his throws.  He had never gone two games in a row with consecutive one passing touchdown games until these last two, which may be his final ones other than a bowl game at Texas A&M.

Rapid Fire

South Carolina got its record fifth straight win over Clemson and the Gamecocks will have to take that with them this offseason as they missed out again on the SEC Championship Game. The Gamecocks forced six turnovers including three by Tajh Boyd in the fourth quarter during the 31-17 win.  Steve Spurrier’s team will look to win a bowl game and put together three straight 11-win seasons. South Carolina at 10-2 could end up in the Capital One Bowl or the Chick fil-A Bowl.

Tennessee snapped an 11-game SEC road losing streak with a 27-14 win at Kentucky. Rajon Neal had a big day and went over a 1,000 yards for the season. Corey Miller had 4.5 sacks to set a school record. The late Reggie White had the Volunteer record at four sacks set back in 1983. The Vols finished at 5-7 but with a lot of momentum in recruiting the future looks good for Butch Jones.

Georgia rallied from 20 down to knock off Georgia Tech in double overtime on the road 41-34. It was the largest comeback under Mark Richt and the third largest ever for the Bulldogs.  Todd Gurley rushed for 122 yards and a career high three touchdowns including the game winner for Georgia. Hutson Mason’s first start was slow but finished strong as he threw for 299 yards. The Bulldogs finish 8-4 and are likely headed for Jacksonville and the Gator Bowl against a Big Ten team.

Mississippi State got a huge Thanksgiving night win, 17-10, over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. Dak Prescott came off the bench to lead the Bulldogs to victory in overtime by finishing the game 11-for-20 and rushing nine more times for 29 yards. Dan Mullen will be the first coach to take Mississippi State to four straight bowl games in school history. The BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham seems likely against an American Conference opponent.

Final Thoughts

Great weekend of college football and 10 SEC teams will go bowling this season.

Alabama deserves a tip of the cap for putting itself in position to win three outright titles in a row. It has never happened and barring a miracle times 10, won’t happen this season. The Crimson Tide should be in a BCS Bowl and likely the Orange unless the SEC winner gets to BCS Title Game.

Florida will need to hire an offensive coordinator quickly. The Gators slow-played the last two hires leaving fans and recruits hanging. This has to be a guy who will speed things up and run the zone-read. Returning quarterback Jeff Driskel is a zone-read guy and that suits his skill set. That said here are three names I am hearing: Clay Helton from USC, Jake Spavital of Texas A&M and Chris Hatcher at Murray State.

Missouri changed its offensive coordinator last season and so did Auburn. Look at what we have now, the two combatants in the SEC Championship Game. The two teams were 2-14 in the league last season but the biggest reason I believe for their success has been quarterback play. James Franklin has been healthy and can run while Nick Marshall has gotten better every week and is an explosive runner. The SEC is changing and the days of the pocket passer may be taking a back seat to a guy who can make plays with his legs. In 2008 and 2010 the BCS Champion had a mobile quarterback. Will that be the case in 2013? 

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