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SEC Championship Game Preview: #3 Auburn vs. #5 Missouri

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The Matchup: #5 Missouri (11-1, 7-1) vs. #3 Auburn (11-1, 7-1)

When: Saturday, December 7th

Where: Atlanta, Georgia (Georgia Dome)

Game Time: 4:00 PM ET

TV: CBS

Vegas Line (Wynn): Auburn (-1.5)

What’s at stake: Auburn and Missouri clash Saturday for all the SEC marbles. It’s almost an unlikely scenario; neither team even went to a bowl game last year. These two will meet for only the second time in history, and Mizzou leads the all-time series a whopping 1-0. An SEC Championship and a national championship are both on the line Saturday. Ohio State, however, likely needs to lose for either to jump into the title game.

Related: A cast of actors who will play Auburn’s 2013 miracle movie

Reshaping history: Usually, when we talk SEC Championships, we talk about pro-style, under-center rushing attacks with great defenses. Turn the page to the SEC’s 2013 season, and it all looks different. But how different? Auburn and Missouri are spread offenses. True. But each is just as strong as any pro-style SEC Champion in previous years with their line of scrimmage play. Missouri has the better overall defense, but Auburn’s bend-but-don’t-break style has been making key play after key play in 2013. Although we’re talking about spread offenses and the SEC’s slightly different direction of offense this year, both teams are built from the inside out with great line of scrimmage play and timely defensive stops. It’s still fast and physical SEC football; it just may look a little more spread out.

Coach of the Year? Is the award on the line Saturday? Most around the country, including myself, think Gus Malzahn is in the driver’s seat. He inherited a 3-9, SEC-winless team, and he turned them into an 11-1 program primed for an outside shot at a national championship. Similarly, Gary Pinkel orchestrated a major rebound in 2013 and is coming off a five-win season in the Tigers’ inaugural season in the SEC. You can make a case for either, but you can make a better one for Malzahn. I personally do not think the SEC Championship outcome will decide the coach of the year. If anything, it may decide that Duke’s David Cutcliffe is the coach of the year.

Related: Malzahn, Pinkel up for national coach of the year

Run the football: Both teams are very good at it. It’s no surprise the SEC’s two best rushing offenses, though differently balanced, will play in the championship. Auburn averages over 318 yards per game and over 50 attempts per game for 6.34 yards per carry, while Mizzou averages over 236 yards rushing per game on 42 carries for 5.61 yards per carry. Like previously mentioned, it may look different, but both are smash-mouth in their own way.

Related: Compare Auburn-Missouri offensive and defensive stats

Auburn features 1,300-yard rusher Tre Mason, who has an SEC-high 18 TDs, along with nearly 1,000-yard rusher in QB Nick Marshall with 10 TDs. Two others in Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne both have over 500 yards and have combined for 10 TDs on the season. This is one of the most dominant run games in college football. It’s like Oregon but with physicality.

Missouri features its own three-headed monster with Henry Josey (951 yards, 13 TDs), Russell Hansbrough (624 yards, 4 TDs) and Marcus Murphy (561 yards, 9 TDs). QB James Franklin will also tote the rock, and he’s rushed for 412 yards and three touchdowns. Josey is the SEC’s comeback player of the year, and it’s a story that needs to be told and retold again.

Auburn unbalanced: The Tigers don’t throw the football much because they don’t have to. We said it before the Alabama game that Auburn has to be balanced on offense in order to pull the upset. Auburn rushed for 296 yards and passed for only 97. That’s hardly balanced. They didn’t have to be balanced. Nick Marshall made key throws when he had to. He missed two big plays to Ricardo Louis, but he hit TE CJ Uzomah on a beautiful 13-yard touchdown pass, and he hit Sammie Coates on a run-pass option for 39 yards and the game-tying touchdown with under a minute to play. Auburn doesn’t have to be balanced, but Marshall has to hit the big play when it’s there. So far, he’s done it

Missouri’s defense: It’s better than you think it is. What Dave Steckel and his coaching staff have done has been incredible. The Tigers are second best scoring defense in the SEC behind Alabama, as well as the second best rushing defense, only allowing opponents a little over 119 yards per game. The secondary has struggled at times, but they have an SEC-high 18 INTs. Mizzou matches up better with Auburn’s offense than it would against Alabama, mainly because the lack of superior size along the defensive line. Michael Sam, Kony Ealy and company are big-time players, and it bodes well for the athleticism to help Mizzou against Auburn. Mizzou is one of three teams to have not given up more than 28 points in any game in 2013, joining Michigan State and Stanford. That’s pretty good company.

What gives? All the talk surrounds Auburn and their unbelievable finish against Georgia and Alabama. The Tigers have orchestrated four fourth-quarter comebacks this season, with three of them all coming with less than a minute to play against Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama. All the talk consumes Auburn and whether they should jump Ohio State. No one is talking about Missouri, one of the most sound football teams in college football. The Tigers could easily be 12-0 right now if not for a fourth-quarter comeback to South Carolina when their starting quarterback James Franklin didn’t even play because of an injury.

It’s going to be tough for either defense to stop either offense, and as is usually the case, field position and special teams will play a huge part in who wins Saturday. There’s a major difference in driving 80 yards as opposed to driving 55 to 60 yards. Auburn has the edge in special teams, but they are riding an emotional high that few experience. And it only compares to winning a conference or national championship. How will they respond?

Both teams are pretty much even athletically, and it could come down to the better coach and game planner. Gus Malzahn or Gary Pinkel – who are you taking?

Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports





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Comments 32

  1. Fantastic article Jon. I think Mizzou’s defense is the perfect type to be able to stop the Auburn run. Typically we only rush 4-5 and hold opponents to 119 yds/game. If we can put 5-7 in the box every play knowing a one dimensional Auburn team is going to run the ball, I think the athleticism of our front can stop Auburn. The only thing that worries me is missed tackles leading to big plays. On the offensive front, Auburn is weak in their secondary, as we saw with a few huge passing plays from Alabama. Mizzou’s wide receivers are bigger and better than Alabama’s and will prove to give the Auburn secondary fits. After we are up a few scores, we can pound it out in the run game and claim our SEC title.

    • And while our secondary tends to struggle, we do have one of the best shut down corners in college football with EJ Gaines. He held Mike Evans to 8 yards receiving this past weekend. The same Mike Evans that scorched Auburn for 287 yards and 4 TDs.

    • You’re crazy. As many people have said that they would stop Auburn’s run game and make them ‘one deminsional’ and nobody has done it yet. Oh, and go ahead and keep thinking that Auburn can’t throw the ball cause they can. They just don’t have to, and when they do, they prove to everybody that they can. Auburn by no less than a touchdown!! War Eagle!!!

      • Just to put your statement into perspective, you do remember the LSU game do you not? LSU was able to stop the run, and it exposed the very flawed passing game. And it’s not like Auburn has been blowing everyone out this year. This is the same Auburn team that beat Miss State by 4, Washington State by 7, Georgia on a fluke play, and Bama on a Saban mistake. Every week, we Mizzou fans hear about how our team can’t do this or that but your argument, like so many before yours, is baseless. You are two plays that were results of mistakes by the other team away from being 8-3 and sitting at home this weekend. Hopefully you’re able to read that stat with your chest inflated from here to kingdom come.

    • You did see what Auburn’s run game did to bama’s defense didn’t you?

      • Haha y’all are cute. Alabama also gave up 42 to Texas A&M (Similar to the 41 y’all gave up against them). Mizzou on the other hand, gave up half of that. I promise you, not a single person on the Mizzou defense fears the Auburn offense any more than they would any other SEC team. If you actually compare the teams and their strengths vs weaknesses, you would see that Mizzou matches up perfectly to take down Auburn.

    • WHOA! No instant flame from Mizzou fans?! This must be a good article. HAHAH I joke I joke, I agree with the sentiments above Jon, I think it should be an interesting game. I think Mizzou takes this one but 10 points. Leggo

  2. as much as i hate to admit it….i dont think either of them have a chance of the NC….THE S.E.C. needs Bama for that…for a 3 peat…it wont happen with these 2 teams

    • I’d agree only because Ohio State and FSU will remain undefeated after this weekend. Otherwise, both Mizzou and…gulp…Auburn could definitely beat tOSU and would have a good shot at beating FSU. The SEC doesn’t need Bama for a chance to beat the other “top” teams.

    • stop drinking cherry kool-aid. The Auburn and Missouri scores speak for themselves. If you watched Alabama play every week and didn’t see that the best of the conference was catching up to them then you weren’t really watching. It’s not a slam to Alabama, it’s what we expect athletes in a great conference to do…learn to play up to the level of competition.

  3. As much as I will want Mizzou to win, I have to give the edge to Auburn in this one. They have had solid coaching, they have the athletes, and Lady Luck has screamed “WDE!” a few times this year. Mizzou is the better team and has played the most consistently this year (save one quarter against SCar), but Auburn just has “it.”

    • I agree with you Dawg780. Auburn has been able to pull it out a good number of times this year. Whether it is luck or good preparation meeting unusual opportunity (except in the Georgia game… that was blind dumb luck intersecting with NOT knocking the ball down aka unusual opportunity), they have benefited. Naturally I would love to see my Tigers win the SEC, but I am just so thankful that we are here and that we have played to our potential, I am just going to enjoy the game and see what happens. Either outcome, I will love my Tigers!

      • I have to agree with you ATLZOUFAN. Auburn have a fluke in the Georgia game and a missed field goal return for TD in the Alabama game. One game with that kind of luck I will give you a pass, but when the difference between being 8-3 and 10-1 are two fluke, luck plays… a portion of your team worthiness goes down the drain.

        • Let’s not forget that UGA needed a huge help from the relay booth to get the TD to stand to go up by 1. Gary danielson thought Murray was short. Luck? The Louis catch was very fortunate (read:lucky), but you clearly didn’t watch the bama game if you think the final play was in any way lucky or was Auburn’s only way of winning. Bama scored 1 TD in the entire second half, on a 3rd-9 from their own 1. They were unable to sustain drives and only had 1 third down conversion in the entire 4th qtr (the play where yeldon scampered out with 0:01 remaining; Auburn was playing prevent). Saban did the only logical thing and tried to win instead of getting best in OT (yes, it was tied. Auburn didn’t need that play to win). And if you’re familiar with college football at all, the team that runs well late in the game is going to win in OT. Saban knew this.

    • Well Dawg as much as I have enjoyed our conversations I hope your dead ass wrong this time. After going back home to watch the SC game notwithstanding the brilliant play of Shaw, I would hate to drag our ass back from Atlanta with my wife’s telling me what we spent! Idk, the teams seems evenly matched to me I’m just hoping that karma evens out. After all many last quarter miracles can you have, versus years of frustration. Besides which if Auburn is the team of destiny, Mizzou is the team of fire. I think the boys are still pissed, coming out flat at home against A&M and then watching the defense lick their lips and hold Johnny Football to one TD in the second half by basically beating the piss out of him makes me think perhaps the book has another chapter. Anyway here’s a great game and a FSU/OSU stumble.

  4. My money is on Mizzou. Those tigers will beat these tigers like my tigers did…

  5. Mizzou is a fantastic team. They remind me a lot of Auburn’s unbeaten 2004 squad. That said, I think Auburn wins a close one, and it’ll be a huge (and entertaining game). Mizzou is justifiably proud of their run defense, but if Alabama can’t stop Auburn’s run, I don’t think Mizzou can either. Auburn has a talent edge, and maybe a speed edge. AU by less than a touchdown in what will probably be the best championship game in years.

  6. I see Mizzou slowing down our run more so than Bama. Bama has big guys up front on D who play very sound assignments, but we hurt them when they made small mistakes. Mizzou has those faster guys that can better recover from mistakes made trying to defend the read-option. Honestly, this game makes me very nervous. Regarding the high coming off the Iron Bowl, we made PLENTY of mistakes that we shouldn’t have when we played Bama, and I’m sure CGM is bringing our boys back down to Earth, coaching on those errors and stressing the need to constantly improve.

    Should be a fun game – won the AU student ticket lottery but have to study for an Immunology final, so I gave it to my roommate. I hate that I have to miss it. War Eagle!

  7. Good summary Jon. Breaking ‘news, Paul Finebaum is breaking ‘ranks with the Missouri haters at ESPN. He now says that both Auburn and Missouri (and Alabama and South Carolina) are better than Ohio State. I think ESPN hates Missouri for objecting to their Lowborn Network deal.

  8. Mizzou will test Auburn’s secondary, but I don’t see them stopping AU’s run game. Balanced or not..they will get worn down in the 2nd half, where as AU rotates so many on the D-line they will be fresh and ready to clamp down and put on pressure in the 4th Qtr just like they have all year. Ballgame.

    • I agree that that is definitely possible, but Mizzou rotates in a fair amount of DL help as well:

      Starters:
      Sam
      Ealy
      Hoch Vincent

      Sure to See:
      Golden (see A&M game and his plays against Manziel)
      Burnett
      Ray
      Brantley
      And probably Foster, Winston and Augusta

      Not to mention that Wilson will likely play spy on Marshall like he did against Johnny Football.

      Can’t wait. Gonna be a fun game.

    • several quick passes up in the air above the reach of Auburn’s secondary ends the threat of some Defensive linemen, fresh or not.

  9. One thing I don’t see in the conversation on this board is the passing attack of Mizzou vs Auburn who is just average from the games I have seen. If Mizzou can slow down the run attack with their speed and go to the air it could be the game changer. 3 – 6’5″ wide receivers are hard to defend when your DB’s average 6’0 outside smith who is 6’2″ and can’t cover all 3 of them.(JMO)

    • Another game changer DC is the emergence of DGB. His winning the outside puts Lucas at the Y. Meaning some plays their can be a 6’5′ WR covered by a LB.

  10. bubba
    Commented : 5 months ago

    I learned a long time ago defense wins championships. I give the edge to Missouri is a close game. SEC rocks.

  11. Screw auburn. I heard that saban pulled the horseshoe out of gus’s arse after the game last week. Mizzou wins by 50 and then we lay 50 more down on them next year.

  12. Both Tiger teams are pretty evenly matched. Both have very good running quarterbacks. Both have excellent running backs, both use spread offense and are known to use the option. I have to give Mizzou a slight advantage on offense as we are not only well balanced, but we have key playmakers in the passing and running game. Defensively, our front 4 and their backups can cause a great deal of disruption in the back field. It will be interesting to see how MU schemes the Auburn Offense. The key matchup I am looking forward to seeing the most is how MU handles that magical fake hand off Marshall does when he keeps it… wow! Even with these advantages, both teams are so talented and playing with such confidence, this will be a game of execution. The team making the least mistakes wins the game… Mizzou 28 Auburn 24

  13. Mizzou isn’t much more than a poor man’s Oregon: undersized, quick, and opportunistic. They have benefitted more than any other team in the SEC from a sequence of injured teams. They played their toughest two opponents at home, where both teams dealt with injuries in the QB position (don’t believe me? Did you see how Manziel reacted to the 14-7 td pass? He wasn’t hit hard, but jogged off field instead of celebrating. Think on what that does to a team’s morale.) Mizzou makes excuses for the loss to SCAR being Mauk’s fault, but they run essentially the same offense with him as with Franklin. SCAR, on the other hand, also started their freshman qb, who has a completely different skill set than Shaw. When they put an injured Shaw in, it was chaos for the porous Mizzou defense.

    Their next-best opponent, UGA, was without both of their running backs and their star TE, but still managed to make it 28-26 in the 4th qtr despite 4 turnovers. They managed to play their way to an 11-1 record, which is impressive. However, UGA and Florida were only shadows of their prior selves thanks to injuries. They also managed to escape SEC play without having to play the top 3 from the West (auburn, alabama, and lsu). Mizzou played only two FBS AQ opponents who average more than 200 rushing ypg. One was Indiana, who put up 28. The other was SCAR, who put up 27 and won the game.

    Auburn will control the clock, control field position, and easily win this game. The only chance Mizzou has of winning will come if they have a massive turnover margin or a large number of huge plays.

    45-31 Auburn