So much for the notion that Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall would have to pass like he hadn’t passed all season for Auburn to have a chance against Alabama.
Marshall threw two touchdown passes, including the game-tying, 39-yarder to Sammie Coates, but the SEC’s top rushing offense rushed for 296 yards against a defense that hadn’t given up 200 rushing yards in a game in two years.
What’s more, Auburn asserted its preferred pace when it needed to most, mounting two, hurry-up touchdown drives after Alabama had gone up 21-7 in the second quarter.
Auburn’s bend-but-don’t break defense broke, to the tune of giving up AJ McCarron’s 99-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper the 28-21 Alabama lead, but the Tide wound up 3-for-6 in red zone chances.
Only one of those missed chances ended in one of Alabama’s four missed field goals, a third-quarter possession that ended at Auburn’s 16-yard line. The other field-goal misses came on drives that ended at Auburn’s 27, 27 and 38.
Auburn made a fourth-down stop at its 13 in the fourth quarter, with Carl Lawson stopping T.J. Yeldon for no gain.
The made the biggest play of the game, with Chris Davis returning Adam Griffith’s short 57-yard field-goal attempt from the back of Auburn’s end zone for a touchdown.
Auburn’s special teams made another big play when Robenson Therezie blocked Cade Foster’s 44-yard try in the fourth quarter and Ryan Smith recovered at returned it to Auburn’s 20.
Auburn also downed two Steven Clark punts at the Alabama 1-yard line.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was good and lucky.
He was lucky that his ill-fated call to go for it on fourth down and 1 from his own 35 in the fourth quarter resulted in no Alabama points. Auburn stopped the Tide on fourth down and 1 from the Tigers’ 13.
Where Malzahn was good was calling the run plays and running the read option/screen option plays that set up Marshall’s game-tying touchdown pass to Coates.
That Malzahn elected to play for a potential return on Griffith’s miss? That was big, too.
A year after going 3-9 overall and 0-8 in SEC play, Auburn is 11-1, SEC West Division champion and headed to Atlanta to play for the SEC Championship for the fifth time in school history. The Tigers, which have won eight consecutive games since losing at LSU on Sept. 21, will play Missouri.