Auburn's run game charges into BCS title

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
11:40
AM ET

ATLANTA -- As Auburn fullback Jay Prosch walked off the field inside the Georgia Dome Saturday night, confetti still stuck to his sweat-drenched jersey, he couldn't help but feel like he'd seen this before.

The surroundings were different, as was the significance of the moment, but the performance he saw from his teammates, especially juggernaut running back Tre Mason, was all too familiar. The Tigers had just churned out 545 crippling rushing yards, including 304 from Mason, in Auburn's 59-42 win over Missouri in the SEC championship game.

It was a performance for the ages, but Prosch wasn't surprised by the effort or production he saw, especially from Mason, who catapulted himself into the Heisman Trophy conversation.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsTre Mason led Auburn's historic rushing attack against Missouri with 304 yards and four touchdowns.
"I see a performance like that out of Tre every week," Prosch said. "He runs hard and he's the same runner every time. I love the guy."

Mason has quietly been one of the league's most consistent running backs, but Auburn's running game has been incredible all season. Everyone knew how dangerous Auburn's running game was, but seeing the Tigers dismantle the SEC's top two rushing defenses in back-to-back weeks was eye-opening.

Auburn punished Alabama with 296 rushing yards before gutting Missouri Saturday. Auburn's 545 rushing yards was the third most gained this season nationally. Mizzou hadn't even allowed a team to rush for more than 184 yards in a single game, but Auburn had 282 by halftime.

"We could tell right away that we were wearing them down up front," said running back Cameron Artis-Payne, who added 36 yards and a touchdown on two carries against Mizzou. "Tre came to the sideline and was like, 'Hey, we got them,' and our offensive line, they thought so as well. They came to the sideline and said we could get push on them and we just kept rolling with it."

They rolled, rolled and rolled some more. It was the fourth time this season Auburn finished a game with two 100-yard rushers, as quarterback Nick Marshall ran for 101 yards against Mizzou. It was also the second time Auburn had four different players score a rushing touchdown.

Mason was the workhorse, carrying the ball an SEC championship game-record 46 times, but it started with tremendous push from Auburn's offensive line. Auburn pushed Mizzou's d-line around all night, creating Godzilla-sized holes for Mason and his buddies to sprint through.

Another reason for Auburn's rushing success was the offensive pace. Mizzou's offense is fast, but its defense wasn't prepared for Auburn's speed. Auburn was set and ready before most of Mizzou's defense could catch its breath. It seemed like Mason only gained energy as the game went on.

"I didn't even think about fatigue at that point in time," Mason said. "Just not quitting until the clock said zero."

Added left tackle Greg Robinson: "When they get tired, he doesn't have to work hard to do what he do."

Check out these numbers regarding Auburn's running game against Mizzou, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:

• Auburn's 545 rushing yards were the most ever by an SEC team against an SEC opponent and the most overall by an SEC team since Auburn had 565 against Southwestern Louisiana in 1985.

• Auburn had 29 carries in which first contact was not made until at least 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, the most by any AQ school in a game this season. Entering Saturday, Missouri hadn't allowed more than nine such rushes in a game.

• Auburn had 19 runs of at least 10 yards, second most in a game this season behind New Mexico, which had 20 against Air Force. Entering Saturday, Missouri had allowed 42 such runs all season and had not given up more than five in a game.

• Auburn had 29 carries outside the tackles for 309 yards, the most such rushing yards yielded by any SEC defense this season and the second most by Auburn. This season, Auburn has more rushing yards outside the tackles (2,893) than 105 FBS teams have total rushing yards.

Now the Tigers will take the nation's best rushing game (335.7 yards per game) to the VIZIO BCS National Championship against the country's No. 14 rushing defense owned by top-ranked Florida State. The Seminoles haven't allowed 100 rushing yards in three straight games.

Don't expect the Tigers to be intimidated by another stout rushing defense.

"We're able to run the ball on just about everybody, I guess," tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "Numbers don't lie at all."

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