ATLANTA — It’s been a wild affair at the Georgia Dome, where No. 3 Auburn leads No. 5 Missouri 28-27 at halftime.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Neither defense can make stops, though Missouri’s has created two turnovers compared to one for Auburn’s. Here are a few halftime observations:
1. The big question entering play was how Missouri’s run defense would hold up. Missouri had some success early against Auburn’s run game, but after the first two drives it proved mystifying for defensive coordinator Dave Steckel’s defense. That read option and misdirection sucked in linebackers and provided running alleys off tackle.
Then, in the second quarter, Auburn just lined up and smashed it right down the throat of the defense. Steckel has done a masterful job in several games coming up with halftime adjustments. Still, it’s hard to see how he’s going to fix this in 20 minutes.
Auburn has 38 carries for 282 yards, which is almost 100 yards more than Missouri’s defense had allowed in any game this season (184, Texas A&M). Junior running back Tre Mason has 23 carries for 195 yards, which is only 6 yards shy of the SEC Championship game record (LSU’s Justin Vincent, who had 201 in 2003).
2. Auburn has been its own worst enemy. Quarterback Nick Marshall’s first fumble — give defensive end Kony Ealy full credit for the sack/strip after beating Auburn’s tackle like a dusty old rug — set up a field goal by Andrew Baggett.
Ealy forced another fumble early in the second quarter, which E.J. Gaines returned for a touchdown.
After a surprise onside kick, Auburn had another fumble on a read-option exchange, which went for a loss and led to a 54-yard field goal try that skirted wide right. It was a drive that could have provided crushing momentum in Auburn’s favor and instead amounted to nothing.
Auburn also had three critical holding penalties.
3. Auburn junior running back Tre Mason ran all over the Missouri defense and into the SEC Championship game record book. He also probably charged up a few Heisman ballots. Mason has looked unstoppable, racking up 195 yards — and touchdown runs of 7 and 3 yards — on 233 carries against a defense that was only giving up 119.1 yards on average.
Missouri hadn’t allowed more than 184 yards to any team — read that again — during the regular season. Mason has eclipsed that mark and seems likely keep trucking right into the SEC Championship game record books. Might such a performance also land him a spot in New York for the Heisman ceremony next weekend?
4. For voters who would consider leapfrogging the SEC champion over an unbeaten Ohio State team, barring a Michigan State upset in the Big Ten Championship game later tonight, the first half hasn’t provided any evidence that either Missouri or Auburn clearly deserves that chance.
Both teams have been as leaky as a colander on defense. Missouri’s struggles against the run are noted above, but Auburn hasn’t been particularly good against either the run or the pass. Missouri is averaging 6.1 yards per carry, gaining 128 yards on 21 carries. Quarterback James Franklin has completed 11 of 17 passes for 176 yards, including touchdowns to sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham of 38 and 55 yards.
5. Missouri sophomore kicker Andrew Baggett hadn’t been used much down the stretch after hitting the left upright on short field goals in consecutive weeks against South Carolina and Tennessee.
However, Baggett, a Lee’s Summit North graduate who had only one field goal in the last three games, came through against Auburn, opening the scoring with a 42-yard field goal and adding a 36-yard field goal in the second quarter.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.