Monday, January 27, 2014
Season report card: Auburn
By Chris Low
Auburn's report card for the 2013 season is the kind you can't wait to take home to mom and dad.
It was a storybook season in many ways for Gus Malzahn's Tigers.
It doesn't get much better offensively than what we saw from Auburn in 2013. No, the Tigers didn't drop back and throw it a bunch, but they ran Gus Malzahn's hurry-up offense with precision, purpose and power and ran it all the way to a berth in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. Auburn finished 12th nationally in scoring offense with a 39.5-point average. And you want consistency? The Tigers scored 30 or more points in 13 of their 14 games and led the country in rushing offense at 328.3 yards per game. In their last three games (and their three most important games), they ran for a total of 1,073 yards against three highly ranked run defenses. Tre Mason led the SEC in rushing with a school-record 1,816 yards. Nick Marshall really came into his own at quarterback after coming over from junior college and flirted with 2,000 passing yards (1,976) and 1,000 rushing yards (1,068). The most underrated part of the Auburn offense was an offensive line that was the best in the league when the season ended.
Auburn's numbers on defense weren't pretty. The Tigers ranked 12th in the SEC in total defense (420.7 yards per game) and gave up way too many big plays for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's liking. A prime example was the 49-yard catch and run by Florida State's Rashad Greene on the Seminoles' game-winning drive in the BCS title game. The Tigers had two players in position to make the tackle for a 10-yard gain, but it instead turned into a backbreaker. Nonetheless, Auburn's defensive plan in the championship game was outstanding, and the Tigers' defense played well enough overall to win. They made clutch plays all season on the defensive side of the ball and were excellent on third down and in the red zone. Senior defensive end Dee Ford developed into one of the best pass rushers in the league. This grade is a little higher on defense than maybe the numbers would suggest, but the Tigers played big when they had to.
Punter Steven Clark was one of the best in the country at pinning teams deep and was one of the stars of the BCS National Championship. The Tigers were second in the SEC in net punting and second in punt return average. They also had three overall returns (two kickoffs and one punt) for touchdowns, not to mention the special teams play of the year in college football -- Chris Davis' kick-six to beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl. The downer was giving up the kickoff return for a touchdown to Florida State in the national title game, which completely changed the complexion of that contest. That's the only thing that keeps this from being a solid "A."
What a storybook season on the Plains. The Tigers, a year removed from going winless in the SEC, turned in one miraculous and/or thrilling finish after another to win the SEC championship and come within an eyelash of winning the national title. Malzahn did a masterful job in turning this program around, and his staff was equally superb. When you consider how far the Tigers came from where they were to end the 2012 season, this probably ought to be an A+. But we reserve those for national championship seasons. It wasn't quite a national championship season for Auburn. But, boy, was it a memorable one.