Since he arrived on the Auburn campus out of Woodlawn High in Birmingham speedy defensive back has been begging the coaches to let him touch the football. This season he has shown why he wanted to get his hands on the pigskin. With a punt return for a touchdown at Tennessee and other big returns already this season, Davis was only setting the scene for what was to come.
In the biggest situation of the year and of his football life, Davis made perhaps the biggest single play in Auburn football history. Back in case Alabama's 57-yard field goal attempt came up short, Davis drifted near the back line of the end zone and fielded the ball 109 yards from the opposite goal line. Starting up the field, the cornerback moved left to set up a wall of blockers waiting to escort him up the sidelines. Once he cleared the initial defender it was smooth sailing for Davis and the Tigers on the way to the win.
Always a physical and competitive cornerback, Davis has turned into one of the biggest special teams weapons in the country this season and perhaps the best returner for Auburn since the days of Lionel James. Averaging 20.5 yards per return on 12 punts, Davis is over a full yard ahead of Mike Fuller's school record for a single-season average set in 1973. I wouldn't bet against him having another big play before his college career is done in two games.
It's hard to put into words just how well junior running back Tre Mason has played this year. Running for 164 yards and a touchdown against Alabama on Saturday, Mason now has 1,317 yards and 18 touchdowns this season on 237 carries.
From a yardage standpoint he is now sixth on the single-season rushing list for the Tigers, just 84 yards from passing both Ben Tate and Brent Fullwood to move into fourth. His 18 rushing touchdowns ranks second in school history for a single season, just two shy of Cam Newton's record for 20 set in 2010.
All that has been accomplished while losing just 15 yards on 237 carries. That shows how physical the junior is in short yardage situations and his will to win. A workhorse for the Tigers the second half of the season, Mason is the type of back who can carry a team to a title and with Marshall there to take some of the pressure off there is still time for more big things for Mason before the curtain goes down on the 2013 season.
Auburn Run Defense Steps Up
When you just look at the numbers the fact that Auburn allowed 218 rushing yards and 6.2 yards per carry to Alabama isn't impressive, but if you look a little closer you will see a solid game from the Tigers. On the first carry of the game T.J. Yeldon broke loose for 31 yards. Throw in 33 yards on two carries in a passing situation on the final drive and that is 64 of those yards on just three plays.
Perhaps the biggest part of things came on short yardage plays as Auburn's defensive front got penetration and stopped the Crimson Tide time and time again. That's a dramatic change from last season and even from the beginning of the year for the Auburn defense. Coach Ellis Johnson and defensive line Coach Rodney Garner deserve a lot of credit for the improvement up front and that was one of the biggest reasons why Auburn came away with the win.
The player who has stepped up his game the most is junior Gabe Wright. Second on the team with three sacks and 8.5 tackles for losses, Wright has become more of a force at defensive tackle and provided a push for the Tigers. With Dee Ford leading the way and fellow ends such as LaDarius Owens and Carl Lawson playing well also, Auburn's front four will need to play well again this week if the Tigers hope to come home champions of the league.
Missouri Provides A Stern Test
When this season started two of the biggest longshots to be playing this weekend were Auburn and Missouri. How wrong everybody was.
While Auburn has done it on the legs of Marshall and Mason plus an improving defense that has grown since the start of the season, Missouri has fought through an injury at the quarterback position by using a trio of big wide receivers and a strong running game of its down to make plays on offense. Throw in a strong defensive front and it's not a surprise to see Missouri run to the SEC Eastern Division title.
Stingy against the run, allowing just 113.2 yards per game and nine touchdowns, Missouri's defense has been good this season. This week gives me the same question I had going into last week's game against Alabama, however, and that is who exactly have the Missouri Tigers faced who can run the ball? Of the other seven teams in the top eight in rushing offense in the league, not including itself, Missouri has faced just two of those teams in 2013.
With Missouri's big-play ability in the passing game and Auburn's physical running attack, this one could be a new-fashioned SEC shootout come Saturday afternoon.
The "It" Factor
Before the season started I was asked countless times what I thought the Tigers could do this season. I usually responded somewhere between seven to nine wins with an outside shot to win 10 games. With talent returning and Malzahn back on the Plains, I knew the offense would be much better and in turn the defense would have more incentive to finish games with a strong effort because scoring a significant amount of points vs. strong opposition was actually an option again.
I never would have dreamed Auburn would be playing for the SEC Championship though. Not this season. Playing with a quarterback in his first fall in a new offense, losing four key defensive players for much or all of the season and facing a loaded SEC schedule, this Auburn team has shown there is more to football than just numbers. Sometimes it's about "It.. This team has it and when a team figures out how to win things are never the same.