On Saturday in Atlanta (3:00 P.M., CBS), the #5 Missouri Tigers (11-1, 7-1) face off against the #3 Auburn Tigers (11-1, 7-1) for the SEC Championship. Last week, Missouri clinched the division title with a 28-21 come-from-behind win over Texas A&M, while Auburn advanced with an improbable last-second 34-28 win over Alabama.
Earlier this week, Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel talked about the Auburn Tigers.
“They play hard,” said Coach Pinkel, complimenting Auburn. “Their team is very well-coached. They’re disciplined. They’re playing good defense. They’re a bit like us. They play reckless. They play really hard. They battle.”
Auburn leads the SEC in rushing, with an average of 318.2 yards/game on the ground. They also lead the conference in rushing attempts and in yards/carry (6.3). And, Auburn relies heavily on their rushing game. They run the football on 71% of their offensive plays.
Schematically, Auburn’s offense is a spread that emphasizes running the football with a lot of pre-snap motion, and a heavy dose of read option. It’s not very dissimilar from some other offenses that Missouri has faced this year, particularly Toledo, Arkansas State, and Ole Miss. What’s really different about Auburn is the level of talent that they put on the field, and the high level at which they execute their offense.
“(Auburn’s) offensive scheme is really good,” said Coach Pinkel. “Their quarterback is a great player! You have a quarterback like a Brad Smith-type athlete right there. They run forms of the triple option with the same principles as the wishbone in a lot of respects. They have a great offensive scheme, and they’re very good at it.”
Auburn’s 6’1” 210-pound junior QB Nick Marshall is a great player. Not only is he a great runner, with near-elite speed, but he’s become a very good decision-maker with the football in Auburn’s zone-read option attack. On the season, Marshall has completed just 59.2% of his pass attempts (119-201-5 for 1627 yards and 11 TDs), but his 140.28 passer efficiency rating is indicative of how effective he is when Auburn is able to run the football again and again and again before Marshall pulls it on a play fake and goes to the air.
Marshall’s primary down field threat is 6’2” 201-pound sophomore WR Sammie Coates. He has 32 receptions on the season for 747 yards (23.3 yards/reception) and 6 TDs. He’s joined at the WR position by 6’2” 215-pound sophomore Ricardo Louis (25 receptions, 290 yards, 2 TDs), 5’9” 176-pound freshman Marcus Davis (22 receptions, 191 yards, 1 TD), and 5’10” 186-pound junior Quan Bray (20 receptions, 191 yards, 3 TDs). And, 6’4” 258-pound junior TE C.J. Uzomah (9 receptions, 146 yards, 3 TDs) has been productive in the red zone.
On the season, Marshall has rushed for 922 yards and 10 TDs on 140 carries (6.6 yards/carry). And he’s not even Auburn’s leading rusher! That would be 5’10” 205-pound junior RB Tre Mason, who is also the leading ground gainer in the conference, with 1317 yards and 18 TDs on 237 carries (5.6 yards/carry). Mason is Auburn’s workhorse. He combines speed and power, and is effective running inside or outside. He’s also one of Auburn’s leading receivers, with 10 receptions for 113 yards.
“(Mason’s) a real talented player, physical, a game-breaker, quick,” said Coach Pinkel.
While Mason is the workhorse, Auburn does utilize a couple of other backs, including 5’11” 210-pound junior Cameron Payne (573 yards and 5 TDs on 88 carries), and 5’11” 205-pound junior Corey Grant (585 yards and 5 TDs on 60 carries). While the quality of Auburn’s offensive skill-position players is a big part of what makes their offense so effective, what really allows Auburn to rush for over 300 yards/game is the quality of their play up front. Alabama’s All-American LB C.J. Mosely called Auburn’s offensive line “the best in the country”. They’re big, athletic, and extremely physical. And, count 6’0” 258-pound senior fullback Jay Prosch among Auburn’s offensive line. He’s a devastating lead blocker.
Auburn’s offense is explosive, and while they’d like to distract their opponent with pre-snap motion, or deceive them with sleight-of-hand, or utilize their pace of play to their advantage, when it comes down to it, Auburn is simply very physical up front, and their ball-carriers are difficult to get a hold of and to get on the ground.
Auburn’s offense gets most of the attention, but their defense is also very good. They’re allowing 22.5 points/game. They’re about average in the SEC with respect to the stopping the run, allowing 4.4 yards/carry. And, they’re below league average at defending the pass, giving up 7.3 yards/pass attempt. In the SEC, only Missouri has defended more pass attempts. But Auburn’s defense has been very good in the red zone, where opponents have scored a TD on just 21 of 44 possessions inside the 20-yard line.
Up front, Auburn is a little undersized. Their defensive line is anchored by 6’3’ 269-pound senior DT Nosa Eguae, who on Saturday is making his 42nd career start. On the season, he’s made 19 total tackles, including 3.5 TFLs, to go along with 6 QB hurries. He’s joined in the starting line-up by 6’3” 293-pound junior DT Gabe Wright, with 28 total tackles, including 8.5 TFLs, and 3 sacks, to go along with 8 QBHs, and a fumble recovery, 6’2” 250-pound junior DE LaDarius Owens, with 28 total tackles, including 4.5 TFLs, and 2 sacks, to go along with 9 QBHs, and 6’2’ 240-pound senior DE Dee Ford, with 23 total tackles, including 12 TFLs, and 8 sacks, to go along with 16 QBHs, 1 pass-break-up, and 2 forced fumbles.
Two very productive players for Auburn at the next level of their defense are 6’3” 246-pound sophomore WLB Cassanova McKinzy, with 56 total tackles, including 7.5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks, to go along with 4 QBHs, and an interception, and 5’9” 204-pound junior star backer Robenson Therezie, who functions as a hybrid LB-nickel back, and who on the season has made 54 total tackles, including 3 TFLs, to go along with 1 QBH, 1 PBU, and 4 interceptions.
The star of the Auburn defense is 5’11” 200-pound senior corner Chris Davis, who last week returned a last-second field goal attempt 100 yards for the winning score. That’s not as much of an aberration as one might think. Davis is the conference’s leading punt returner, by a lot. He’s returned 12 punts on the season for an amazing 20.5 yards/return, including an 85-yarder for a TD! Davis also leads Auburn in tackles, with 65 total tackles, including 2.5 TFLs, to go along with 1 QBH, and 1 forced fumble, and he also leads Auburn with 12 PBUs.
The rest of Auburn’s secondary has been very productive as well, including 6’2” 194-pound senior safety Ryan Smith, with 56 total tackles, including 0.5 TFLs, to go along with 1 QBH, 3 PBUs, 1 forced fumble, and 3 INTs, 5’11” 201-pound junior safety Jermaine Whitehead, with 56 total tackles, including 1.5 TFLs, to go along with 5 PBUs, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 INT, and 5’10” 200-pound junior corner Jonathon Mincy, with 49 total tackles on the season, to go along with 11 PBUs, and 1 INT.
Auburn hasn’t really had to play catch-up, except in their loss to LSU. They’re patient, and have stayed with their running game even when they’ve trailed late in the game. Teams that are proficient at throwing the football, like Georgia and Texas A&M, have put up a lot of yardage and points against Auburn. And in each of the last two games, Auburn trailed very late in the game, and pulled out the wins with at least a modicum of good fortune. Comparative Statistics
(NCAA Ranking in Parentheses)
MIZZOU _____ CATEGORY ______AUBURN
489.5 (17)_____Total Offense______ 491.0 (15)
236.9 (18)____Rushing Offense______318.3 (5)
252.6 (42)____Passing Offense_____172.8 (105)
150.32 (28)____Pass Efficiency_____148.27 (30)
38.8 (T-14)____Scoring Offense______38.6 (17)
385.4 (52)_____Total Defense_______414.3 (75)
119.1 (14)_____Rushing Defense_____157.6 (56)
266.3 (110)__Passing Yds. Allowed___256.7 (100)
119.43 (37)__Pass Efficiency Defense _124.63 (59)
19.4 (14)_____ Scoring Defense______ 22.5 (31)
1.3 (T-5)______Turnover Margin______0.1 (T-56)
0.470 (24)____3rd Down Conv. Pct____0.452 (33)
0.727 (6)_____4th Down Conv. Pct___0.500 (T-56)
0.365 (42)_____3rd Conv Pct.Def. ____0.352 (28)
0.875 (T-31)___Red Zone Offense_____0.880 (27)
0.811 (44)_____Red Zone Defense______0.705 (8)
36.79 (64)______ Net Punting_________40.23 (9)
5.55 (98)_______Punt Returns________ 11.30 (29)
23.52 (24)_____Kickoff Returns_______24.65 (15)
292 (T-21)____First Downs Offense_____279 (32)
241 (T-54)____First Downs Defense_____247 (63)
5.08 (T-43)___Fewest Penalties / Gm. __4.58 (T-25)
30:10 (57)____Time of Possession______29:46 (62)