Tigers tangle in Atlanta for the SEC title

Tigers tangle in Atlanta for the SEC title
December 5, 2013, 11:00 am
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Auburn and Missouri will square off in the Georgia Dome for the SEC title just one season after both suffered a losing campaign. There are some similar factors in which both teams achieved this status and is started with change on offense.

Both teams run the spread with athletic quarterbacks and each team changed its offensive coordinator from last season. For Missouri it was a simple staff change mixed with a change in practice philosophy to keep guys healthier for the season. At Auburn it was a head coaching change that brought back the architect of the 2010 championship offense with a new pupil as offensive coordinator.

For both programs the change was good and with that came the success that could lead one to the BCS title game.

Auburn posted the biggest turnaround In SEC history this season going from zero wins to seven. They did it behind Nick Marshall and Tre Mason on the offensive side of the ball. The offense ran for 318 yards per game which was first in the SEC and fifth nationally. The Tiger offense is rarely off-schedule because it dominates on first down.

On the season Auburn averaged 177 yards a game on first down alone. Auburn has executed flawlessly to the tune of more than 30 points per game in each of its last eight games. The play action pass is their best down-field pass play and Sammie Coates leads the nation in yards per catch at just more than 23 yards. The offensive line ranks third in the SEC in fewest sacks allowed and 21st nationally.

The defense under Ellis Johnson has improved over the course of the season and played its best football in the second halves of games this season. The unit is led by a terrific front four featuring Dee Ford, Gabe Wright and Carl Lawson. They have accounted for 14 sacks and 27 tackles for loss among them.  Auburn plays a lot of guys rotating as many as 13 on the front four. This is why they are holding teams to just 7.75 points per game in the fourth quarter.  Opponents have converted just 25 percent of the third downs in the fourth quarter this season against Auburn’s defense which leads the SEC.

Missouri’s offense is the most balanced in the country having rushed for 2,843 yards and thrown for 3,031 yards. It has 137 first downs by rush and 134 by pass. 

A healthy James Franklin has been the key and his ability to run has given Henry Josey more room to roam at running back. Franklin is also a more polished passer than freshman Maty Mauk, who in his own right did a fine job filling in for Franklin. Franklin gets a lot of his yards in the open field on second down after the offense is productive with the run on first down.

Franklin is completing 77 percent of his passes on second down this season. In the red zone he has plenty of weapons and leads the league with 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Dorial Green Beckham had a breakout season with 10 touchdown receptions and L’Damaian Washington also had 10 touchdowns which tied them both for second in the SEC. Henry Josey had 13 touchdowns in his comeback season that was third best in the SEC and he averages over six yards per carry.

The Missouri defense has been the untold story of this team’s success in 2013. The 29 sacks in conference play are the second most by and SEC team in the last seven years. (Georgia 30, 2011). Michael Sam leads the SEC with 10.5 sacks and with 18 tackles for loss. Kony Ealy is also a force on the defensive line with five sacks. Missouri has forced a turnover in 42 straight games which is the longest streak in the country.  Missouri is plus-15 in the turnover margin which leads the SEC and is sixth in the country.  The secondary is led by veteran E.J. Gaines who has four interceptions this season in nine games.

Interesting Numbers

  • Auburn has four rushers with over 500 yards rushing on the season in Tre Mason, Nick Marshall, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne.
  • Missouri has 31 rushing touchdowns and 27 passing touchdowns.
  • In SEC games only this season, Auburn averaged 286 yards rushing with 25 touchdowns while Missouri averaged 224 yards with 17 touchdowns.
  • Missouri had the best rushing defense in the SEC versus league opponents giving up just 120 yards per game in eight games.
  • Missouri and Auburn ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the league in red-zone efficiency in league games.
  • Auburn had the league’s second best defense in the red zone in conference games and forced three turnovers when backed up, tied for the best mark.
  • Tre Mason (13) and Henry Josey (9) combined to rush for 22 touchdowns this season in conference games.
  • Auburn is 8-0 when scoring first this season.
  • Missouri has not allowed points off a turnover since Oct. 19 against Florida.

Keys

  1. Can Auburn make Missouri one-dimensional on offense? With Franklin’s balance and ability to run, that could be a huge challenge for coordinator Ellis Johnson.
  2. Will Missouri win first down on defense against Auburn’s spread rushing attack? Missouri leads the SEC in first-down rushing defense and Auburn leads the SEC in first down rushing offense.
  3. Will turnovers be the difference? We know Missouri gets turnovers but Auburn has not turned it over in two of its last four games and only twice in a game since Oct. 5.

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