Marshall: Cox Is Good and Getting Better

Phillip Marshall writes about a big weekend in SEC football, Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox and the 2005 Iron Bowl.

In a series that has produced so many heroic performances, at a stadium permeated by the tradition of southern football, Auburn and Georgia put on a show for the ages Saturday night.

That it ended with redemption for John Vaughn on a 20-yard field goal with six seconds left was fitting. This one was going to the wire. It had to. After two teams who wouldn't give in slugged it out for more than three hours, nothing else would have seemed right.

Just as he'll never forget the five field goals he missed in a 20-17 overtime loss at LSU, Vaughn will never forget being hoisted into the air by his teammates at Georgia.

Perfection didn't come to the party Saturday night. Auburn allowed too many Georgia receivers to get too wide open. Georgia allowed too many big plays, some by ground and some by air.

But these kinds of games are rarely about perfection. They are about the will to win, the toughness to be at your best in the most crucial and difficult of times.

In the end, the Tigers won because they were tough enough to win. I'm not talking only about physical toughness, but also about toughness of a more elusive kind. Coaches like to call it mental toughness.

Auburn is a very tough football team, tough enough to come back from numbing disappointment in the season-opener against Georgia Tech and even more disappointment in a near-miss at LSU, tough enough not to give in when times are hard.

It showed when Courtney Taylor, instead of becoming a spectator, sprinted down the field behind Devin Aromashodu and, as a result, was there for the biggest fumble recovery he'll ever have.

It showed when Auburn defenders fought on against the onslaught of Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley.

It showed in the churning legs and giant heart of Auburn tailback Kenny Irons.

It showed in center Joe Cope, who looks out of place among the giants on the offensive line but plays the game with a fervor that shows heart, desire and determination really do sometimes mean more than size and speed.

It showed in so many ways. But the toughest man wearing white at Sanford Stadium just might have been wearing No. 12. That would be sophomore quarterback Brandon Cox.

Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges says he believes Cox is as good as any quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. And he says Cox is just getting started.

On Oct. 22 in the sound and fury of Tiger Stadium, Cox led an 87-yard fourth-quarter drive that gave Auburn a 17-14 lead over LSU. When LSU tied with less than two minutes left, Cox took his team into field goal range.

Saturday night at Sanford Stadium, he was again at his best when it mattered most. Facing fourth-and-10 at his own 35 with the crowd noise making verbal communication impossible, he delivered a strike to Aromashodu, who sped to the three, lost the ball and watched Taylor recover.

When Vaughn kicked the biggest field goal of his life and Shockley's final pass had been thrown, Auburn could celebrate. Sept. 3 and a season-opening 23-14 loss to Georgia Tech seemed long ago and far away...

In venues other than Sanford Stadium, Southern football in all its glory was on display Saturday.

It started with South Carolina's 30-22 victory over Florida, continued with LSU's 16-13 overtime victory over Alabama in another epic struggle and ended with Auburn's win over Georgia.

South Carolina is amazing. The Gamecocks have a decent quarterback in Blake Mitchell, a great wide receiver in Sidney Rice, a great defensive back in Ko Simpson and very little else on the field. But they have first-year head coach Steve Spurrier on the sideline.

The Gamecocks have won five straight games and moved into the Top 25. They haven't lost since being embarrassed 48-7 at Auburn. Spurrier proved at Florida he could win with great talent. Now he's proving he can win without it. Urban Meyer proved at Utah he could win big in the WAC. He has yet to prove he can win big in the big boys' league…

Florida coach Urban Meyer has found life in the SEC can be challenging.

Alabama-LSU, in a different way, was a contest as memorable as the one that unfolded in Athens. It says a lot for Alabama's defense that the Tide could stay in the game despite its struggling offense.

When JaMarcus Russell finally made the big throw in overtime, Alabama's national championship dreams were dashed. Alabama hasn't looked like a championship team since wide receiver Tyrone Prothro went down late in a 31-3 win over Florida, but it kept winning until Saturday.

It's almost time for the big one in this state. Alabama visits Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. It has all the makings of yet another memorable day in a rivalry so intense that it stays forever with those who are part of it.

On the turf at Jordan-Hare, someone will find something deep inside, something special that will help carry his team to victory. And another chapter will be written in the ongoing story that is college football in the South.

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