One of the concerns for any offense following such a long layoff is execution. Depending on every piece of the unit to work as one in order to succeed, Auburn will need quarterback Nick Marshall, the running backs, wide receivers and offensive line all on the same page and in rhythm in order to be successful. Because of that Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said the focus for the Tigers throughout bowl practices has been on keeping a routine.
"We tried to do everything we could to get our guys peaking at the right time," Lashlee said. "We've tried to keep the routine of things the same as far as the times we practice, the days we practice and how those practice formats are. We tried not to over-think and do anything different than we normally would.
"Obviously, that gives you more time as an offense to go back and study yourself, tendencies and things like that, that normally you don't have when you have six days to get ready for somebody.
"The thing about offense, it takes all 11 guys executing to perfection," he added. "You can have 10 guys do the right thing, and if one guy is off, the play won't work. The defense may stop you sometimes, but it may not be necessarily because they stopped you, you just mis executed. You've got to execute at a high level on offense no matter who you're playing to be successful."
This Auburn offense is a far cry from the group that put up terrible numbers on the way to just three wins a year ago. Even during the spring the Tigers struggled to get things going, something that carried over early in the 2013 season. Inconsistent in wins over Washington State, Arkansas State and Mississippi State, Auburn's offense had a big day statistically in a loss to LSU in week four, but turnovers and missed opportunities early put the team in too big a hole to climb out of.
Auburn QB Nick Marshall is averaging 231.8 yards of total offense per game this season for the Tigers
Finding something during the off-week before Ole Miss, the Tigers have put together one of the best offensive runs in school history since that time. With a strong offensive line leading the way and juniors Reese Dismukes and Greg Robinson dominating opponents, Marshall, Tre Mason, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne have been able to flourish in the running game. While play-calling and execution always factors in, Lashlee said the success all starts up front.
"Overall I think it's just a combination of things," Lashlee said of the success of his guys. "Our guys have really bought into what we're doing. Reese and these guys up front have done a really good job. J. B. Grimes has done a fantastic job with our offensive line, just covering up at least the down guys and giving Nick and Tre and Corey and Cam and those guys at least a chance to get started.
"I don't know. I can't explain it. Just our guys have bought in. We get momentum in games a lot of times, and it goes our way. Obviously, Jeremy (FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt) and them have done a really good job of stopping people. They're No. 1 in the country in the most important category, which is points per game, as well as top three or four in a bunch of other ones. I would think they're going to do what they do. They've been really good at it, as well, so it's a great challenge for us."
How well Auburn's offense plays on Monday falls squarely on the shoulders of Marshall. He has become the catalyst for the Tigers because of his ability to trigger the running game on the zone read and also hit big throws when needed. With eight passing touchdowns and just one interception since that LSU loss, Marshall has made better decisions in the passing game, but it is his ability to pierce a defense with his legs that has taken the offense to another level.
A leader on the field who doesn't seem to ever get rattled, Marshall has earned the respect of his teammates for his cool demeanor and also his knack for the big play in crunch time. Fullback Jay Prosch said when the game is on the line they have complete confidence in Marshall, and that is a huge bonus for an offense as the Tigers have learned.
"I've never been a part of a team with a quarterback like him," Prosch said. "He's not like the kind of guy who thinks that he runs the show really. He doesn't act like that around the teammates. He doesn't act like when he walks into a room that we've arrived. He's just another player on the team. And on the field he's extremely calm. Like you said, he doesn't panic at all. He's calm, and that gives the rest of our offense kind of, all right, like okay, everything is fine. He's just an extremely well – how do you say? I don't know, his character is perfect for this offense, I guess. That really helps keep the team together."
"The Mississippi State game, we needed a two minute drive and he drove us down the field with his arm," C.J. Uzomah said. "He hit Marcus Davis a few times and then hit Jaylon Denson on a corner route to the field, and that's a really hard throw to make. He led us down the field. He made a perfect pass to the end zone, and I think that's kind of when we knew that we could put our full faith in him, and when push came to shove we could rely on him."
Tre Mason leads the SEC in rushing.
Facing a huge challenge against a defense that is allowing just 10.7 points per game this season and 268.5 yards of total offense, Auburn is looking to continue the trend they have followed since last spring, improvement. From the first day of spring practice until they step on the field at the Rose Bowl, Auburn's goal has been to get better each and every day as a team. No matter what happens on Jan. 6 Lashlee said this team has already shown a winner's mentality.
"I thought the biggest thing was we came out of spring ball, we weren't very good, but we scored a few times on offense in the spring game, our defense made a few plays in turnovers, both sides came in thinking, we trust the coaches and buy into what they're asking us to do, we have a chance to be pretty good," Lashlee said.
"We'll have a chance, but more importantly, they bought into coach saying it's a new day and we're going to be a tight team, be together, and we did a lot of things together from taking them bowling to moving them all into dorms together, do things to make them be tight together, and that's why we won games this year at the end of the day, close games, miracle games, whatever you want to call it. We've got a team. We don't have one guy that stands out and gets all the glory. We win as a team together."