Giving up plenty of yards and points in the first half and a still more in the third quarter, with the game on the line Coach Ellis Johnson's group put the clamps down on Missouri in a 59-42 win.
Just how good was Auburn's defense in the fourth quarter? Consider these numbers.
Through three quarters of play Missouri racked up 42 points, 19 first downs, 462 yards of total offense while converting on 3-10 third and fourth down attempts. In the final quarter Auburn's defense held Missouri to no points, three first downs, 82 yards of total offense and didn't allow a first down on five third or fourth down tries by the SEC East champions.
That has been the strength of the defense all season with one major exception as Auburn has allowed just 58 points in the fourth quarter in 13 games. When you consider that Georgia scored 21 of those points the numbers stand out even more dramatically.
In the other 12 games this season Auburn allowed a total of 37 points. That's an average of just 3.08 points per game in the final 15 minutes. Numbers like that will help you win a lot of football games.
While schemes always factor in as do the adjustments from Johnson and his staff, as much as anything it can be traced back to two things. The first is the strength and conditioning training by the Tigers under Ryan Russell. With the motto F.I.S.T., which is an abbreviation for fast, intense, strong and tough, the Tigers have been working since last January to be the stronger team at the end of games.
The second is the rotation of the defensive linemen throughout the game by Coach Rodney Garner. A proponent of playing two and three guys at every position, Garner's choice to rotate his guys every series has paid off in a big way this season.
Gabe Wright has started the last nine games, all victories for the 12-1 Tigers.
"It's one of the most important things as a team, but more importantly for our defense," junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. "Guys are fresh, what can I say. You've got the same five offensive linemen going week in and week out. If they want to pace then let them pace. You can pace, but we've got three other groups of defensive linemen you can pace. If you do the math they'll wear down much faster than we will."
Wright has become one of the leaders on the defensive line and his play has helped that happen. Leading all defensive linemen with 30 tackles this season while adding three sacks and eight and a half tackles for losses, Wright's tackle total is half of the 59 the interior defensive linemen made all of last season. His three sacks is more than the group produced in 12 games in 2012.
Montravius Adams makes a stop against Missouri
The older guys have benefitted from being fresh late in games, and late in the season, because Garner decided early in the schedule to play a group of talented newcomers even if they weren't ready coming out of the starting gate. Junior college defensive tackle Ben Bradley, freshman defensive tackle Montravius Adams, and freshmen defensive ends Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel have all contributed greatly to the success of the Auburn team this year.
A force off the edge, Lawson is second on the team with four sacks and has seven and a half tackles for losses. Despite being less than full speed due to injuries for a portion of the season, Adams has 20 tackles and seven quarterback pressures.
A steady player in the middle, Bradley has added 14 tackles.
Daniel has become one of Auburn's most productive freshmen. He began the season at end, but has seen much of his playing time at tackle in pass rush situation. He has become a weapon for the Tigers. With two and a half sacks, three tackles for losses and 11 quarterback pressures, his production for a limited number of plays has been through the roof.
Both Daniel and Adams credit Garner's rotation for bringing them along this year and also making the group better by keeping them fresh for the fourth quarter.
It was really important because it's a long game," Daniel said. "You can get tired easily. Coach Garner keeps us fresh and ready to play."
Adams agreed with his fellow freshman, especially when considering Auburn's victory in the SEC Championship Game. With Missouri trailing in the fourth quarter and needing to throw the ball, Auburn's defensive linemen were able to pressure James Franklin to put the finishing touches on the Auburn victory.
"That was very important because as I was watching the game when I was on the sidelines, if you really look at the game when we took the lead you could tell they had gotten tired," Adams pointed out. "We were still fresh."
Heading to the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 6 against top-ranked Florida State, Auburn's defense will again be challenged by one of the most potent offensive groups in the country. With Jameis Winston a deadly passer and weapons all over the field, the Tigers will have a difficult time keeping the Seminoles from scoring, but look for Auburn to keep pressing to make the type of plays that help win games. That is what they've done all season and Adams said it has made it a year to remember for him.
"It means a lot to me because everybody doubted Auburn," Adams said. "Everybody questioned my decision about me coming here because they were 3-9 last year. It really doesn't even matter. This is a good team. We always listen to our coaches and stay together and do what they say. They say to take it one practice at a time, one game at a time, and that's what we've been doing."