Football is a game of emotion, momentum and big plays of all kinds ranging from offensive plays, defensive plays, as well as special teams.
Saturday night, in front of a huge, enthusiastic crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Auburn Tigers came away with a big offensive play late in the game with 10 seconds left in the contest. Tight End C.J. UzoMah caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Nick Marshall to give the Tigers a 24-20 come-from-behind win over Mississippi State.
The win ended a 10-game losing streak in SEC tilts for the Tigers, who are 3-0 under first year head coach Gus Malzahn. It also prevented the Bulldogs from beating Auburn in back-to-back seasons since 1999-2000. The Tigers were able to avenge a 28-10 loss to MSU at Starkville.
State’s head coach Dan Mullen, who is entering his fifth season at Starkville, said that if his team were to pull off a win at Jordan-Hare Stadium, something an MSU team hasn’t done since 2007, it would be considered a big win for his club. After all, they were 1-5 against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams with a winning record.
Malzahn, who was Auburn’s offensive coordinator in 2010 when they won the BCS National Championship game over Oregon, has brought a passionate spark and intense renewal of interest in the program that went south last year, resulting in the dismissal of head coach Gene Chizik.
Football can also be compared to the stock market as well as a ride on a roller coaster at an amusement park–i.e. it can go up and down with every play, every down and every offensive and defensive series. Auburn was in command in the first quarter with an 11-6 lead and held on for a 14-13 lead at the half although State outplayed them in the second quarter.
State took a 20-14 lead in the third quarter as they made the most of their opportunity on their opening drive. Auburn would score 10 unanswered points in the third and fourth periods to come away with the win.
Without question, both defenses made big stands to keep the game close and competitive throughout. There were a few occasions when it seemed as though the Bulldogs would extend their lead when they converted on two key fourth-and-short opportunities in the fourth quarter. But penalties and stout defensive play by the Tigers denied the visitors from Starkville, MS any scoring opportunities.
When Auburn received the ball on their own 12 with under two minutes left to play in the game, it appeared that they wanted the chance to move within field goal range, make it, then send the game into overtime and let the proverbial chips fall where they may.
But with Marshall, a junior college transfer who had only been on the Auburn campus a mere five weeks, calmly, coolly and with great efficiency, took the Tigers 88 yards in 12 plays to come away with the winning touchdown play. Malzahn, who has worked with some outstanding quarterbacks in his coaching career–including Cam Newton–appears to have helped Marshall make the transition from junior college to the SEC, where every week is war.
While it’s way too early to say that Auburn is going to win the SEC West, Malzahn, his staff and players are making sure that they are returning to their winning ways. Through grit, guts, determination and desire, the Tigers are now 3-0, and may get some consideration from the voters when the new polls come out early next week.