It wasn’t the most yards Missouri had ever given up on the ground, but never in coach Gary Pinkel’s 13 seasons at MU has his run defense been abused like it was Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
Auburn steamrolled Missouri for 545 yards rushing in a 59-42 victory in the highest-scoring SEC championship since it began in 1992.
“I told guys, I’m not leaving Atlanta without a ring,” said Auburn junior running back Tre Mason, the game’s MVP who ran 46 times for 304 yards and four touchdowns. “I told them, I’m not leaving without being a champion. That sunk into those guys. They took it to heart and performed well tonight.”
“I think you give them credit, but certainly we made a lot of errors,” Pinkel said. “I think as their tempo kept cranking up, I think we probably didn’t handle that very well either.”
Missouri, 11-2, allowed 681 yards against Oklahoma in 1986, but the 412 yards Eric Crouch-led Nebraska rolled up in Pinkel’s inaugural season of 2001 was the most the MU run defense had allowed since he took charge.
Auburn, 12-1, blew that mark out of the water led by Mason, who set an Auburn record for carries and SEC championship game records for rushing yards and touchdowns.
“The holes that he was running through, I think you might have been able to run through,” MU senior cornerback E.J. Gaines said. When met with an incredulous response, he added, “Well, you didn’t see them obviously.”
Mason also credited for offensive line for making the MVP performance possible.
“Those guys open up some of the biggest holes that I’ve ever seen, that I’ve ever ran through,” Mason said.
He wasn’t alone.
Quarterback Nick Marshall added 16 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown for Auburn, which averaged 7.4 yards per carry on 74 attempts and scored seven rushing touchdowns against a Missouri defense that had allowed just 11 in the regular season.
“I couldn’t tell you why we weren’t able to execute the game plan,” Gaines said. “You basically have to prepare for two different football plays every play really. It’s tough, but we should have gotten it done.”
It was a wild fracas throughout.
Thanks largely to junior defensive end Kony Ealy, Missouri led early in the second quarter. He sacked Marshall on Auburn’s first drive, forcing a fumble that led to an Andrew Baggett field goal for the game’s opening points.
Nearing the 13-minute mark in the second quarter, Ealy forced another Marshall fumble, which Gaines scooped up and returned 11 yards for a touchdown for a 17-14 MU lead.
In between Ealy’s two forced turnovers, Marshall’s first pass attempt yielded a scrambling 38-yard touchdown to sophomore Sammie Coates, who finished with six catches for 94 yards.
Missouri answered when senior quarterback James Franklin zipped a 28-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham on a deep post.
Replays showed the ball hit the turf, but it was not reviewed and the touchdown stood — though the 10-7 lead didn’t last long.
Five plays and 76 yards later, Marshall scored on a 9-yard run.
Once Marshall solved the fumbling issue, Auburn’s offense proved all but unstoppable.
Mason scored two second-quarter touchdowns on runs of 7 and 3 yards sandwiched around another Missouri field goal before Franklin finished the half with a 55-yard bomb to Green-Beckham, which trimmed Auburn’s lead to 28-27 at the halftime.
Missouri retook the lead midway through the third quarter when junior Marcus Murphy was left uncovered on a wheel route for a 10-yard touchdown from Franklin, but Auburn’s punishing ground game was relentless.
Junior Corey Grant put Auburn back in front with a 2-yard touchdown run and the lead grew to 45-34 when junior Cameron Artis-Payne bowled through the line then broke into the open for a 15-yard touchdown. Mason tacked on touchdown runs of 1 and 13 yards in the fourth quarter, closing out Auburn’s eighth SEC title.
Throughout the game, Missouri shifted between three-man and four-man fronts to try and slow Auburn. It didn’t matter.
“We went out there and played the same way we have all year … ” Ealy said. “The only thing we didn’t do right was tackle and wrap up.”