Finding A Way To Win
There is just something about teams that know how to win. You can see it in every sport and every profession, and it drives other teams crazy when it happens. Finding a way to win a game when you’re not at your best is the ultimate mark of a champion and we’re seeing that trait now from the 2014 Auburn Tigers. It was something that showed up last season as well and it comes from the top.
Gus Malzahn is always prepared, always grinding, something that shows through his team's performances. That was the case again Saturday night in Oxford as the Tigers overcame penalty after penalty to get a huge road win over the Rebels. While the defense struggled the offense rolled over an Ole Miss defense that entered the game as one of the best in the country. Making the plays when they were needed the most on the defensive side as well, the Tigers showed they can get it done in crunch time and that is the most important characteristic a team can have.
Nick Does It Again
Much of the reason for Auburn’s success in those clutch situations is the play of quarterback Nick Marshall. His numbers won’t rival those of Cam Newton from 2010, but I’m not sure Marshall hasn’t been just as important as Newton in his two seasons on the Plains. Picking up his completion percentage while continuing to make big plays down the field, Marshall’s decision-making in the running game has been getting better the deeper the Tigers get into the schedule. While he will likely never have a perfect game before his time is done, Marshall had another strong outing against Ole Miss and his position coach and offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, pointed out that the quarterback got the job done when it mattered most.
“I know he missed Sammie on the one early that should have been a touchdown, but after that he really did a good job of giving those guys chances to make plays,” Lashlee said. “When there were some protection issues or a guy just got beat he was able to extend the play, specifically the big third down. That was the drive it was 24-14 and he converted about a third and 11 I think.
“What you don’t see is that if he could have gotten the ball off on time it would have probably been a touchdown because the defender that was covering Duke, who he was about to throw to, fell down," Lashlee added. "As long as he hits him it’s about a 70-yard touchdown. He scrambled out though and made a fantastic play. Duke made a good play and that got us going. Really, for the most part, there were about three or four plays that I thought he didn’t play very well. Other than that I thought he had a really good game and made plays for us.”
Trouble In The Middle
At this point I’m not sure what the Tigers can do in the secondary and at linebacker to get rid of the massive holes in the pass defense that have shown up the last two weeks. One of the options would obviously be to put senior Jermaine Whitehead back in the lineup, but at this point it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon. Still not practicing with the defense, Whitehead continues to play on special teams for the Tigers and that’s it.
Something that will help will be to continue to get pressure on the quarterback, something that finally happened against Ole Miss. While still not consistent enough, it came at opportune times to help the Tigers on several big defensive plays.
Gators Grind The Dogs
I thought last week that Georgia would have a tough time taking down the Florida Gators without a fight, but I had no idea it would be Will Muschamp’s team that would dominate the game on the ground. I am not sure I can remember another team that only completed three passes for a total of 27 yards that thoroughly dominated a game the way Florida did. I’m not sure what it means for either team at this point, but there is no question Georgia learned a valuable lesson on Saturday. There is no such thing as a friendly gator.
With Mississippi State and Florida State both winning in the first two spots, they will continue to be one and two in the college football playoff poll and rightly so. While I don’t believe either are the best team in the country at the moment, they have earned the right to stay at the top for the time being.
Auburn is a strong number three in my mind following the win over No. 4 Ole Miss on the road. The Tigers will have to earn their spot in the Final Four. If they continue winning there is no doubt Auburn will be involved at the end of the year regardless whether or not they play in the SEC Championship Game.
For the fourth position I have Alabama with Oregon a close fifth. Both are playing better football now than a few weeks ago, but with games against LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn still left it’s a tough road for Nick Saban’s club. For the Ducks it may come down to this weekend in the regular season with a trip to face one of the top defensive teams in the country at Utah. With only Colorado and Oregon State left, this is probably the only threat to Oregon until the Pac-12 title game.
The winner of this weekend’s TCU-Kansas State game will also have a shot to make a big jump in the playoff standings next week. Going on the road last weekend the Horned Frogs escaped West Virginia with a close win while Kansas State pummeled Oklahoma State at home. If the Wildcats can continue winning it not only makes them a real threat to make the Final Four, but only strengthens Auburn’s schedule as well.
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