SEC: Jay Prosch

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 25, 2014
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We've arrived at the final weekend in April, which is somewhat bittersweet for SEC football fans. It's a weekend – and that's always a good thing – but it's also the final weekend for the conference's spring football games (Arkansas and Kentucky both play Saturday), meaning no more SEC football until late August.

Enjoy it while it lasts before the long summer – and take a quick look at today's lunchtime links before it begins.

SEC lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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Spring games galore this weekend! Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will be in action on Saturday. But news isn't just on the field; there's plenty off the field, too:

SEC lunchtime links

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
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Hope everyone is staying safe and warm out in SEC country with all the strong winter storms affecting the region. Stay inside and read up on the interesting nuggets from around the league, of which there are plenty today:
Dee Ford has seen it all during his time at Auburn -- the highs and the lows.

As a freshman, he won a BCS national championship. Two years later, he endured a 3-9 season and the coaching change that ensued. But the senior defensive end stuck around and finished his career as a part of this year’s Auburn team that came a play or two away from winning a second national championship in the last four years.

[+] EnlargeWinston Sacked
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNosa Eguae ended his senior season in the same way he ended his freshman season in 2010 -- starting for Auburn in a BCS championship game.
“It's been a big roller coaster,” Ford said prior to Monday’s title game. “There's a message behind it. Things aren't going to work out when you expect it to. It’s really revealed who we are as individuals and who we are as a team.”

Things didn’t work out for the Tigers in Pasadena. They ultimately fell short of the ultimate goal, losing to Florida State in the national championship, but it was still a season to remember for Ford and the rest of that senior class. After everything, they went out on top.

“It means a lot for me to go out (like this) my last year,” Ford said after the game. “In the entire time, we set a goal to have the biggest turnaround in college football history, and it was an amazing journey for me. I'm definitely proud to be an Auburn Tiger right now. We didn't win, but at the end of the day, I'm still proud of my team.”

It was the same sentiment shared by all 15 seniors. The majority of them were there for the 2010 national championship. They all went through last year’s difficult season and finished this season on top, despite the loss to the Seminoles.

It was a journey that brought them closer together.

Ford’s partner on the defensive line, Nosa Eguae, is also a senior. In fact, he was the only starter from the 2010 team still on the roster. On Tuesday, Eguae addressed his fellow seniors in an open letter to the fans that he shared with multiple media outlets.

“This is the last time my brothers and I will get to spend a day with each other,” Eguae said. “For tomorrow, we will go our separate ways and pass the torch to the next group of seniors that will lead and fight for the greater good of the family. From tragedy to triumph, I could not ask for a better group of men to ride off into the sunset with.”

In addition to Eguae and Ford, the senior class that has grown so close together includes the likes of Steven Clark, Chris Davis, Jake Holland, Cody Parkey, Jay Prosch, Ryan Smith and Ryan White -- all who started or made an impact at some point during the season.

It’s a group that could have won two national championships during their time at Auburn but will still leave behind a legacy that will affect the program for years to come.

“There will be a lot of great things and great memories that our seniors have led us to be,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “We were just on the brink of making it one of those magical seasons, but there's so many great things that we'll take. I just told the seniors they laid the groundwork for our program moving forward, and our program is very bright right now.”

With nine starters returning on offense, pending Tre Mason's decision, and seven starters returning on defense, the Tigers should be among the nation’s elite teams again next season. They’re ranked No. 5 in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2014. But it will be up to the seniors-to-be to provide the leadership.

Center Reese Dismukes, a three-year starter, knows he’ll be counted on as a leader again next season, but he showed his appreciation to the departing seniors after Monday’s game.

“Proud of my teammates and coaches,” the Auburn captain tweeted. “We fight and fight til the end. Thanks seniors for all you’ve done for this program.”

The torch has been passed.

Video: Auburn FB Jay Prosch

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
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Chris Low talks with Auburn fullback Jay Prosch about what was said in the locker room following the Tigers' loss to FSU in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

Video: Auburn FB Jay Prosch's inspiration

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
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Jay Prosch talks to Chris Low about how his late mother still inspires him through the highs and lows of his career at Auburn.

Auburn goes from agony to ecstasy

January, 4, 2014
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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs can joke about it now.

“It was a tough year last year, but not as tough as three-a-days under Pat Dye,” quipped Jacobs, who played for Dye at Auburn in the early 1980s. “It was pretty close, though.”

And about as ugly as it gets.

Auburn senior H-back Jay Prosch took it a step further.

“It was completely degrading,” he said about the 2012 season.

But in the same breath, Prosch beamed, “This year has been amazing.”

[+] EnlargeJordan-Hare Stadium
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesThe victory over Alabama and an SEC championship seemed to come out of nowhere, a delight for Auburn fans after a dismal 2012.
It’s been the equivalent of football nirvana for the Auburn community.

Let’s face it: Nobody expected this, not after the way things unraveled on the Plains a year ago, which has made the Tigers' turnaround all the more remarkable and equally soothing for everybody associated with Auburn.

It’s one thing to have the bottom fall out and go 3-9 (0-8 in the SEC) only two years removed from a national championship. But try doing that when your bitter rival across the state is in the midst of back-to-back national championships.

In a lot of ways, being an Auburn fan in the state of Alabama the last couple of years was a lot like being a 20-handicap golfer in a foursome that also included Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy.

“We’ve been through some tough times here with other issues,” Jacobs said. “But as far as on the field, there’s never been a more difficult year to navigate. And then being in the same state with another SEC school that beats you handily and wins two straight national championships makes it even more difficult.

“Not that it wouldn’t have been difficult by itself, but I think everybody in the Auburn family was looking at it and wondering, ‘How far apart are we, and will we ever get back to where we were in 2010?'" Jacobs added. "But here we are now playing for a national championship. They’ve won two in the last four years, and we have a chance to win two.

“We’re excited about what we’ve got going at Auburn. We’re going to keep our foot on the accelerator, and we’re not slowing down.”

No team in the last decade has won as many SEC championships as Auburn (three), but that might get lost in the shuffle when Alabama reels off three national titles in a four-year span.

Not only that, but Alabama obliterated Auburn by a combined 91-14 margin in the two games before this season.

“It was really hard,” Prosch said. “A lot of my friends are Alabama fans, and even though they’re not saying anything about it, you can feel it. It’s not a good feeling. You always want to be a competitor, at least.

“And last year, we weren’t even competitive with them.”

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
AP Photo/Dave MartinGus Malzahn has led Auburn to one of the biggest turnarounds in major college history, from 3-9 to 12-1.
Phillip Marshall has covered Auburn for more than 30 years and knows the program inside out. He’s not sure he’s ever seen it teetering the way it was toward the end of last season, when the Tigers lost their last two SEC games by a combined 87-0 margin, leading to Gene Chizik’s firing and the return of Gus Malzahn as head coach.

“I think that’s what has made this year so special for Auburn fans,” said Marshall, who now works for Auburn. “They’d almost lost hope, and then to see this kind of turnaround in one year, when Alabama had been so dominant, is something nobody saw coming -- not this quickly, anyway.”

Junior center Reese Dismukes joked this week that blood pressures were down across the board this season among Auburn fans, who dreaded the thought the last two years of crossing paths with Alabama fans.

And in that state, it’s common for families to be split right down the middle, so there’s really no getting away from the rivalry.

“It’s good to have taken the state back,” Dismukes said. “I was as tired of hearing people talk about Alabama as anyone else was.”

Junior running back Tre Mason said it’s gratifying to see the pride back among the entire Auburn family.

“Putting them through what we did last year, we owed them a season like this,” Mason said. “It makes me happy as a player to see our fans happy and them walking around with a smile on their face.”

Malzahn’s quiet confidence has been infectious from the outset. He’s not a guy who seeks out the cameras and doesn't provide a lot of soundbites. But soon after getting the job, he worked hard to connect with Auburn fans.

Obviously, when you win an SEC title, beat Alabama and earn a chance to play for a national title, you’re going to connect with your fan base.

It’s a fan base that was splintered when Malzahn arrived. A little more than a year later, it’s a fan base that’s having to pinch itself to make sure this is all real.

“Regardless of what happens Monday night, and we’re looking forward to playing Florida State, but this has been a season for the ages, one that will always be remembered,” Jacobs said. “It’s been such a joy for the Auburn family and has comforted the Auburn family.

“Really, it came out of nowhere, and we’re just excited to see where it all ends.”

So in a season that started with Alabama chasing history, it’s Auburn that can make history Monday night against Florida State.

The Tigers are already the first team in history to play in the national title game on the heels of a losing season the year before. A victory over the Seminoles would complete the greatest improvement from one season to the next in major college history.

“Adversity is what’s made this team what it is right now, and we’re just going to keep fighting,” Auburn senior defensive end Nosa Eguae said.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Since losing to LSU early in the season, Auburn has won nine straight games and knocked off three top-10 teams in the process. The Tigers were supposed to lose at No. 7 Texas A&M. Nobody gave them a chance against No. 1 Alabama. And some even picked against them when they played No. 5 Missouri in the SEC championship game.

All Auburn did was win each of those games and prove the critics wrong time and time again. Now the Tigers are preparing to face No. 1 Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game and to nobody’s surprise, they are once again the underdogs.

[+] EnlargeAlabama vs Auburn
USA TODAY SportsAuburn can lay claim to being in several more tightly contested games this season than Florida State.
“I don’t care who they talk about as the favorite especially when you have two weeks to prepare,” Auburn defensive end Dee Ford said. “Honestly, if you’re a top caliber team -- I think any top-five team could play with two weeks to prepare. Once the ball is rolled out, it’s time to play football. It really doesn’t matter about any rankings.

“I could care less about people not believing or saying, ‘This is the time they’re going to fall.’ We prepare for this.”

If anything, Auburn is more battle tested than Florida State heading into next Monday’s title game. The Seminoles have dominated their schedule, winning every game by at least 14 points and having an average margin of victory of 43 points. But they played four top 25 teams, two of which are no longer ranked.

Meanwhile, Auburn played six top 25 teams, four in the top 10, and nine of its 13 opponents are playing in a bowl game.

“I think if you look at our entire schedule, I would like to think we are battle tested,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “We’ve been in some true dogfight games. We’ve been in some games where the pressure was on -- on the road, at home -- and our guys have responded. In big games, I know they are not going to panic, so I’ve got to believe that will help us moving forward.”

It’s not just the caliber of opponents they have played this season. It’s how they’ve won. “Dogfight games” doesn’t even begin to describe some of their victories.

It took a game-winning drive in the final minutes to knock off both Mississippi State and Texas A&M. Against Georgia, Auburn connected on a 73-yard Hail Mary with less than a minute left to hold off the Bulldogs. And how can you forget the field-goal return by Chris Davis to take down Alabama in the Iron Bowl?

“There were times that things didn’t look good at all,” Malzahn said. “I’d always look on the sidelines and didn’t see anybody defeated, didn’t see anybody with their head down. They really believed, and they found a way to do it.”

“We know how to fight and we know how to battle and to push through and win a football game even when it’s tough,” fullback Jay Prosch said. “I think that’s a huge benefit. There’s always ups and downs in football games, and you have to know how to overcome that.”

It has been a miraculous run for this Auburn football team. The Tigers leave for California this week, and regardless of the point spread or what the outside world is saying, they will be confident and prepared when they take the field next week.

This is the type of game, the type of moment, Auburn lives for.

"It's just something that we embrace, embrace the moment of being in the spotlight and playing big teams,” quarterback Nick Marshall said. “We just know we have to keep doing what we're doing, and we'll be all right. We're going to find a way to win the game."
AUBURN, Ala. -- When Gus Malzahn stood at the podium during his introductory press conference last December, he said his goal was to ‘play championship football like Auburn expects.’ It sounded great, but how realistic was that?

Across the state, Alabama was on the verge of winning its second national championship and third in the past four years. Auburn, on the other hand, was coming off a dreadful 3-9 season, the program’s worst finish in over 50 years. It didn’t look like the Tigers were going to be competing for championships any time soon.

[+] EnlargeAuburn's Tre Mason and Gus Malzahn celebrate
AP Photo/John BazemoreEven if Tre Mason decides to enter the NFL draft, things are looking up for Gus Malzahn's Tigers.
But here they are, 12 months later, headed to Pasadena, Calif., to play Florida State in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team come as far as we have,” Malzahn said.

Auburn isn’t just a year ahead of schedule. It’s two or three years ahead of schedule. Some people questioned whether Malzahn would ever get the Tigers to this point. After all, he was coaching high school football less than a decade ago, and his experience as a college head coach consisted of one year at Arkansas State.

However, he’s a proven winner. He’s won at every stop he’s made, and it was no different this season on the Plains.

It was a season that was kind to Auburn as far as injuries, and the ball bounced its way on certain occasions, but it was no fluke. The Tigers are in the national championship game for a reason, and the scary thing for the rest of the SEC is that they’re not going away. They could be even more dangerous in 2014.

The offense, which averaged 40 points per game and led the conference in rushing, has only one senior in the starting lineup -- H-back Jay Prosch. The rest of the unit is able to return next season, but a few key players still have decisions to make regarding their future and the NFL draft. Running back Tre Mason is one of those players.

“I’m not sure,” he said recently when asked about the NFL. “I’ve been talking to my family, talking to a couple of guys I know [who] are already there. I’ve been discussing those things with them, and they said, ‘Don’t worry about it, leave it in God’s hands. He’s going to make the right decision for you.’ I’m just going to let time wind down.”

Mason leads the SEC with 1,621 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns. On the heels of his 304-yard performance in the conference championship game, he was invited to New York City for last weekend’s Heisman Trophy presentation. If he opts to leave early for the NFL, it would be a devastating blow for Auburn but one the Tigers could still recover from.

They will have Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant back for one more season, and it could also open the door for ESPN 300 running back Racean Thomas, who is currently committed to Auburn. The in-state prospect rushed for 2,211 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior, despite missing several games due to injury.

The offense, though, is still run by the quarterback, and Auburn has one of the league’s best in Nick Marshall. The junior-college transfer arrived on campus over the summer, won the starting job and never looked back. He threw for 1,759 yards, rushed for 1,023 yards and scored 23 combined touchdowns. Imagine if he had gone through spring practice.

Next season, Marshall's numbers could be even more gaudy when he has a year of experience under his belt. It's not crazy to consider him an early candidate for the 2014 Heisman Trophy. It doesn't hurt that all five starters on the offensive line are eligible to return as well.

This week, Auburn began practice for next month’s BCS title game. It’s obviously a monumental game for the program, but win or lose, the Tigers have the players and the coaching staff to make a run at it again next year. And possibly the year after that. As long as Malzahn's in town, the AU program has what it takes to be playing championship football for a long time.

“While this season has been remarkable, I'm equally excited about the future of our program under his leadership,” athletic director Jay Jacobs said. “The future of Auburn football is very bright.”

Player of the week: SEC

December, 9, 2013
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Was there any doubt?

Tre Mason was easily the most impressive player in the SEC, if not the country, over the weekend when he almost single-handedly beat Missouri to win the conference championship for Auburn.

Against a defensive front Alabama coach Nick Saban called the best in the league, Mason had his way. He left the Georgia Dome with a record 304 yards and four touchdowns. He was a workhorse, too, carrying the ball 46 times without a single fumble.

SEC and Auburn legend Bo Jackson looked on from the sideline and had to be impressed.

"He was like, 'You're probably one of the best players to ever put on an Auburn helmet,'" Mason said of Jackson. "He just was thanking me for being here. I was thanking him for being a mentor to me."

If one game can win the Heisman Trophy, Mason did as much anyone could to sway voters his way against Missouri. In fact, you could argue he did it in back-to-back weeks after gashing Alabama for 164 yards and a touchdown in the Iron Bowl.

Auburn senior defensive end Dee Ford thinks Mason deserves all the recognition he can get.

"Tre for Heisman," a giddy Ford said as he walked away from a brief session with reporters on Sunday. "It's going viral."

"I see a performance like that out of Tre every week," Auburn fullback Jay Prosch said a day earlier. "He runs hard, and he's the same runner every time. I love the guy."

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn checked in with Mason during the course of the game against Missouri and asked if he needed a break.

"He had that look on his face," Malzahn explained. "He said, 'Coach, keep giving it to me.'"

And what he did in Atlanta convinced Malzahn that he has a special player on his hands.

"He's proved he's one of the best running backs in the country, if not the best."

For at least one week, and probably a few more, he's shown he is.

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."
Auburn fullback Jay Prosch respects Missouri's defensive line and its rush defense, but he also loves what his own team's offense can do.

"We're really good at what we do offensively," Prosch said. "I think no matter what, whoever we play, we're going to find a way to move the ball no matter what, where their strengths are. … Missouri has a very good defensive line and a very good defense, but overall I think that we're going to find a way to move the ball no matter how we have to do it."

You can't knock his confidence. The Tigers finished the regular season with the SEC's No. 1 rushing attack, averaging 318.25 yards per game. They average 6.3 yards per carry and have 39 rushing touchdowns on the season.

What's more is that Auburn averaged 286.3 rushing yards in eight conference games. In those games, the Tigers failed to rush for 200 yards just once (120 against Mississippi State). They rushed for 323 yards against Georgia, 379 against Texas A&M and 444 against Tennessee. In last week's epic win over Alabama, Auburn rushed for 296 yards on a defense allowing just 91 rushing yards per game before the Iron Bowl.

While Auburn runs a variation of the spread offense, its running game is very multiple with some power, read-option and triple-option.

[+] EnlargeAuburn
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsNick Marshall and Tre Mason put stress on a defense on every play.
"We're going to have to draw from some experience of other running teams, some of the running philosophies that they have that maybe some other teams had that didn't run the ball as much, be able to apply those lessons to this," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said of defending Auburn's running game.

But Missouri shouldn't feel overwhelmed by what those other Tigers can do on the ground. They have their own stout rush defense.

Mizzou is allowing just 119.1 rushing yards per game, 3.6 yards per carry and has given up 11 rushing touchdowns. Mizzou allowed a league-low 120.8 rushing yards per game in SEC games.

Mizzou linebacker Donovan Bonner has been proud of his defense's production, but he understands the major challenge Auburn's running game presents. After all, this is the same running game that dominated Alabama a week ago. The SEC's best rush defense was pounded and pounded again, allowing a season-high 5.7 yards per carry.

Bonner said stopping Auburn's run game takes discipline and filling gaps. It also means everyone has to be spot-on with their assignments for every player who could run the ball while on the field.

"If you mess up one gap, you go for a big run," Bonner said.

"It's not an easy offense to stop. They do a lot of motion.

"They can pull it out and run with the quarterback. Sometimes they can raise up and pass it. It's really a triplethreat offense, man. You just have to be conscious of what's going on around you and not get caught up in all the other stuff and just focus on what's in front of you. You have to trust your keys as a linebacker and also the safeties, too. So if they scream downhill, and it's play-action, that could be a pass also. So we're just going to focus on trusting our eyes."

Auburn has four players with more than 500 rushing yards, but the stars of the show are Tre Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall, who have combined to rush for 2,239 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Mason is a home run threat and a bruiser. Marshall is slippery, fast and deceptive with the read-option. Twice this season, both rushed for at least 100 yards in the same game, and in the last three games they have combined to run for 798 yards and 10 touchdowns.

You know you're going to take one on the chin when Mason has the ball, but watching Marshall's movements is a little tougher to read.

"You have to stay with the quarterback," Bonner said.

"Marshall is obviously a great runner, probably the best runner other than [Johnny] Manziel that we faced this year. "

But has Auburn faced a defensive line like this? This team hasn't seen a Michael Sam (10.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss), and fellow Mizzou ends Kony Ealy and Markus Golden have combined for 13 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss.

Auburn's running game likes to test players on the edge, but Bonner thinks Mizzou's ends have the ability to contain runs to the outside.

"It can kind of neutralize that, but our defensive ends are pretty athletic, physical guys," Bonner said. "They can get to the ball also I mean, really, if they keep doing what they've been doing all year, we should be fine."

It should be a fun matchup between Auburn's running game and Mizzou's defense. Neither unit has faced the kind of consistency and talent they'll see Saturday, but that hasn't hindered one side's confident nature.

"Offensively, from what we do, I think it will work in our favor," Auburn running back Corey Grant said.

"With us running the ball, we'll find a way to move the ball and get out on the edge and run our zone reads and things like that. So either way, our offense, we've gotten better each week throughout the season. I believe we'll find a way."

Auburn focused on Missouri, not BCS

December, 3, 2013
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Ohio State or Auburn? Auburn or Ohio State? Who deserves to be in the BCS national championship game? Ohio State is undefeated. Auburn, despite one loss, has the better resume -- including a win over the two-time defending national champion.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs certainly believes the SEC champion should get a shot at the national title.

[+] EnlargeChris Davis
John Reed/USA TODAY SportsAuburn can't dwell on its latest miracle finish or the BCS race because it will get a tough test from 11-1 Missouri in Atlanta.
“It would be, quite frankly, un-American for us not to get a chance to go to Pasadena if we’re able to beat Missouri, and I believe the same about Missouri,” Jacobs said during a radio interview Sunday.

The Auburn players share the same sentiment as their athletic director, but they still have one more game left to play. If Auburn loses to Missouri on Saturday, their argument goes for naught.

“Anytime a team goes through the SEC conference and wins the SEC championship, it’s big time,” defensive tackle Nosa Eguae said. “It’s something that’s monumental and means a lot. But we’re just worrying about Missouri. We’re worrying about getting better every single day, and Saturday will take care of itself.”

And Auburn should be concerned about Missouri. The SEC East winner’s only loss came in double overtime to South Carolina. Much like Auburn, Missouri has taken the SEC by storm and surprised a lot of people this year.

“When I look at Missouri, they do remind me of our team in a lot of ways,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “Their team has gotten better each week. They play together. They are very confident. They make plays when they have to. They have played in some big games, especially these last two weeks.

“They went to Ole Miss, which is a tough place to play, and they won. They played against the best player in college football in Texas A&M, and they shut him down for the most part. So you are talking about a team that can rise to the occasion.”

Not to mention, Missouri can make just as strong a case for the BCS title game as Auburn if it wins Saturday in Atlanta.

But Auburn knows that. The players know what’s at stake. The hard part won’t be getting up for the game. It will be keeping out the distractions, specifically the BCS talk, as they prepare for Saturday’s showdown.

"I haven't looked at the BCS,” fullback Jay Prosch said. “I can’t speak for the rest of my teammates, but I know that a lot of them have the same mentality as I do and that’s just that we’re thankful to be here and we know that we have a job to do Saturday. That’s our main focus.”

There’s still a chance that Florida State or Ohio State loses this weekend, and Auburn would play its way into the national championship with a win. If not, the Tigers have to hope for another miracle when the final BCS standings are released.

But the first order of business is Saturday’s SEC championship game.

“I’m really not worried about our team at all in that area,” Malzahn added. “This game is big enough. We are playing for the SEC championship, so they are going to be focused on that. There’s no doubt in my mind. We’ll worry about all of that afterward and see what happens.”
Auburn will sit at home this weekend and watch the rest of the SEC go to work. The Tigers are the only team in the conference who are off Saturday, and that’s just fine with them. It gives them an extra week to heal and prepare for No. 1 Alabama in what is quickly becoming the most talked-about Iron Bowl in history.

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has been on the other side of the rivalry plenty of times, but this is his first season experiencing it from the Plains.

“It’s Auburn and Alabama,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t get much better. It’s fun to be involved in the rivalry. It was then. It is now. I’m real excited about it.”

With a game of such magnitude, it’s hard not to start looking ahead. Alabama likely will begin preparation for Auburn this week with Chattanooga on Saturday, but don’t ask Nick Saban to admit that. Meanwhile, Auburn has a full two weeks to start prepping for the Crimson Tide, but this week has been spent more on fixing its own problems.

“This week is really cleaning up ourselves and trying to get better at what we do,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “At the same time, we are peeking ahead. As coaches, we’re definitely doing that. But we’re really trying to worry a little bit more about ourselves at this point and improve on what we do.”

The Tigers have won seven straight games, including a dramatic victory over Georgia last weekend, but the Bulldogs uncovered a lot of Auburn’s flaws.

“If you look at the fourth quarter, we were up by 20 points and we had to have a long pass to win the game,” Malzahn said. “There were a lot of teaching moments in that fourth quarter that we’ve got to improve on moving forward.”

In that final quarter, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray torched the Tigers’ defense, throwing for 160 yards and two touchdowns. He orchestrated three long scoring drives in the last 12 minutes of the game.

“We all, as a team, had a breakdown here or there that led to some drives,” Johnson said. “Our players know that we’ve got to continue to improve to have any chance to beat Alabama.”

The offense wasn’t perfect, either. Nick Marshall and the Tigers looked unstoppable through the first three quarters, but they could manage only two first downs in the fourth quarter.

“We definitely need to work on our communication,” fullback Jay Prosch said. “There are times in the games when we maybe had some calls mixed up, some timing issues and stuff like that. I would say pre-snap type things, alignments, making sure people know exactly what they’re doing and how they need to do it.

“We’re still working on Bama a little bit, but we’re mainly trying to get ourselves right.”

After a full week of practice, the players will get the next two days off to recharge their batteries, but beginning Sunday, it’s time to go to work and start focusing on Alabama.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
12:00
PM ET
Lots of good stuff out there from around the SEC today. Let's dive into some of the best headlines in the lunch links:

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