Finding A Way To Win
That started way back in week one when Auburn faced Washington State in Jordan-Hare Stadium. In a back and forth affair it was the Tigers who found a way to make plays defensively, a huge change from a season ago.
Picking passes by quarterback Connor Halliday three times, one more than Auburn had all of 2012, the Tigers won a game they would have lost one year earlier. In the grand scheme of things it was a win over a 6-7 team, but for a program that needed to learn how to win again it was a huge first step on the road to a championship.
Jumping out to an 11-0 lead in the SEC opener against Mississippi State, Auburn found itself down to the Bulldogs 20-14 early in the third quarter following a Dak Prescott touchdown run. In what would prove to be a sign of things to come, the Tigers put the clamps on Mississippi State the rest of the way to allow Nick Marshall and the offense time to get the job done.
Cutting the lead to a field goal on the following drive, Auburn needed to move the football 88 yards in the final 1:56 to get its first conference win in over a year. Driving his team to the Mississippi State 25, Marshall scrambled for 11 yards on third and 10 to set up his touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah for the game winner.
While the first three games showed plenty about the Auburn Tigers, game four may have been the biggest turning point in the season for Gus Malzahn's first team. With everything going wrong on a wet and windy night in Tiger Stadium, Auburn fell behind LSU 21-0 in the first half. That was a situation that the 2012 team faced several times on the way to being blown out, but not this team.
Fighting and clawing back in the game, Auburn put the pressure on LSU in the second half and had several chances to make it a one score game before falling 35-21. The fight and determination the Auburn team showed that night was huge, but it was the talk after the game and for days after that showed the true spirit of the 2013 Auburn Tigers. They weren't down, they were mad. This was a team that felt they gave one away and they left feeling like they were the better team. The rest of the year they would go about proving it.
Johnny Be Good (But Not Good Enough)
Returning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel threw for 454 yards and four touchdowns, but it wasn't enough to overtake an improving Auburn team featuring Marshall and the running of Tre Mason. Totaling 615 yards of offense, including 379 on the ground, the Tigers scored 21 fourth quarter points to defeat Texas A&M 45-41 in what was at the time a game for the ages.
Mason ran for 178 yards and scored the game winner from five yards out with just over a minute left. Dee Ford sacked Manziel twice on the final drive to secure the win as Auburn's defense once again stood strong with the game on the line. Heading into the game as a big underdog, the Tigers showed that day in Kyle Field that this team was one to be reckoned with in 2013.
Dee Ford sacks Johnny Manziel
The Immaculate Deflection
After dominating the game against rival Georgia for the first 50 minutes, leading 35-17, Auburn saw senior quarterback Aaron Murray take over the game for the Bulldogs with three touchdowns in the final 9:35 to leave the Tigers needing at least a field goal to keep their dream season alive. Facing a fourth and 18 from the 27-yard line, Marshall launched a deep ball towards Ricardo Louis hoping to make a connection. Underthrown, the ball could have been intercepted by either of the two Georgia defenders in the area, but instead it was tipped into the air. Never slowing, Louis made an incredibly athletic play to snare the ball with one hand and race into the endzone for the score.
Once again it would be up to the defense to secure the win as Georgia quickly moved into scoring position, but Ford plowed Murray on the final play of the game on a pass attempt to finish off the improbable comeback. While there is no question the Tigers were fortunate to win the game, what gets lost is that Auburn ran for 323 yards and piled up 566 yards of total offense against a Georgia defense that entered the game one of the best in the SEC against the run. That would be yet another sign of things to come in the next two games.
Facing an Alabama team many said wouldn't be beat and trailing 21-7 in the first half, Auburn would not be denied. Driving 81 yards on seven plays and capped off by a Mason touchdown, the Tigers cut the Alabama lead down to a touchdown heading to intermission.
Marching down the field to open the final 30 minutes before Marshall hit Uzomah for the tying touchdown, the battle was on. Allowing just seven points in the second half, coming on a 99-yard touchdown pass, Coach Ellis Johnson's defense once again showed its teeth as again and again it denied Alabama a chance to break open the game. With the defense getting a stop on fourth and one and then blocking a field goal block, Auburn's offense responded with an 83-yard drive in just two minutes that finished with a Marshall to Sammie Coates 39-yard pass with only 32 seconds left to tie the score at 28 and set the stage for Chris Davis' heroics.
Everybody knows the story by now. With one second left on the clock and Alabama attempting a 57-yard field goal, Davis was sent back deep by Malzahn following a timeout by the Tigers. Catching the ball just inches from the back of the end zone, Davis broke open down the Auburn sidelines on the way to the game winning touchdown.
While there have been many big plays in Auburn history, what Davis did in that moment will go down as the most important because of when it happened and what it meant. Sending the Tigers to the SEC Championship Game where they defeated Missouri, the play also continued the run for Malzahn's team that now continues in Pasadena, Calif.,for the national championship game. Already one of the top plays in college football history as well, if Auburn can finish the season with a win over Florida State it may just go down as the biggest single play in college football history. With 60 more minutes to play who knows what is still in store for the Tigers before the curtain goes down on Auburn's wild ride.