Couch: Auburn's Hail Mary vs. UGA was a fluke, but Tigers are far from that
Auburn beat Georgia on one of the most miraculous fluke plays you'll ever see. What isn't a fluke? The Tigers' turnaround in Gus Malzahn's first season, writes Greg Couch.
By Greg Couch
AUBURN, Ala. --
Let's face it: A lot of this was fluky. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall just chucked the ball in a general direction of his receiver, Ricardo Louis, who was never going to catch it. The ball was more than 50 yards in the air, and one Georgia defender tipped it up and out of the hands of the other one and the ball popped right over to Louis, who bobbled it a few times and ... touchdown!
Miracle. Destiny. Fate. Football gods.
Well, maybe all of that really did factor in. But don't discount real things, too:
When you take the right people, do the right things and put them in the right place, this stuff is more likely to happen. Put someone in position to succeed, get him to believe that he can, and guess what might happen:
Touchdown! Auburn, winless in the SEC last year, beat Georgia 43-38 and will play Alabama in two weeks for a spot in the SEC Championship Game. Auburn, ranked No. 7, still has a chance to win the national championship.
And I'm not sure if the bigger miracle was the play everyone is going to be talking about, or the fact that Coach Gus Malzahn, in his first year, had Auburn in position for it to mean so much.
I'm going with Malzahn as the bigger miracle.
Someone asked him if he believes in destiny.
'"I believe if you work hard and have a team completely 100 percent together, you have a chance to do something special,'' he said.
The birth of a play like this starts somewhere in practice, in intense heat, with a team that couldn't beat anyone last year. The Play is actually just the result, even with luck mixed in.
Louis had spent the game telling Malzahn to give him a chance, that he was going to make a big play. He was there again, saying it again, in the final minute. Georgia had put on a furious rally to take the lead with 1:49 left.
And then Auburn wasn't going anywhere. Fourth down and 18 from its 27. Thirty-six seconds left. Last chance.
You've seen it by now. Marshall fired it: '"Yes, I thought it was in the right spot,'' he told me.
Louis told me he planned to jump for the ball, but he saw a Georgia defender jump first, so he couldn't. Georgia free safety Tray Matthews was about to intercept it. The ball was just falling into his arms at the Georgia 22. And then strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons jumped and tipped it up, out of Matthews hands.
Three steps later, at the 15, Louis tipped it off one hand, then the other, than bobbled in both hands while running. "I really did think I wasn't going to catch it.''
But he did. Touchdown!
Louis said he caught it because receivers coach Dameyune Craig has been harping on him all year to stay with the ball until it is in both hands.
This is the third game-winning drive this year for Auburn. But let's go back to the real miracle: Malzahn. He was the offensive coordinator when Cam Newton led the team to the national title in the 2010 season.
Auburn unraveled quickly after that under head coach Gene Chizik. The truth is, Chizik got a big head and the whole program sort of had a feeling of entitlement.
That's the short answer, anyway. So Malzahn came in for this season, and the players bought in. He convinced Marshall to come to Auburn, and brought in his speed-up offense. And the same offensive line that kept giving up sacks last year now is blocking perfectly for a running attack.
It's a miracle.
But really, it was all about belief and togetherness. And if Auburn had been in this position last year, there is no way that pass would have been caught.
I mean, Auburn wouldn't have been in that position. It lost to Georgia 38-0 last year. But the point is this:
Take the same players, run the same play, in the same position, and that fluke never would have happened.
In fact, Georgia has gone the other way this year. At the start of the season, I thought they could contend for the national title, but instead, partly because of several injuries, they are now 6-4.
And for much of the game, it showed. There was something about the Bulldogs' body language that said they felt they were the underdog. Quarterback Aaron Murray kept believing, though, and almost pulled it out.
Even after Auburn's miracle, Murray got Georgia to the Auburn 25, in position to try a winning pass. But he couldn't get the pass off.
"I didn't know what to say after that,'' Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I told them I thought they were a pretty amazing group of guys.''
Richt said his defenders should have knocked the ball down on Auburn's touchdown, and not let Louis get past them. He said it wasn't a fluke. Murray, though, called it a freak play. Malzahn said the players still "had bright eyes'' just before that play.
Yes, firing the wrong guy, hiring the right guy in Malzahn, bringing in the right players, changing an attitude, changing an offense, fighting together and believing. And then just heaving that pass up there.