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A miracle for Auburn and Iron Bowl

Georgia-Auburn highlights.
Georgia-Auburn highlights.
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Teddy Mitrosilis

Teddy Mitrosilis edits and writes college football for FOXSports.com. He previously worked on college football, MLB and other sports for ESPN.com and ESPN Insider, and played college baseball at Long Beach (Calif.) CC and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned a degree in journalism. He also blogs about reading, writing and other things on his personal site. Please send tips and ideas to tmitrosilis@gmail.com.

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The blood seeping from Aaron Murray’s forehead hardly mattered, because he had just delivered Georgia the last of 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points.

Yes, he had been hit hard in the head upon lunging over the goal line from five yards out, but who cares? Georgia 38, Auburn 37, the Dawgs running loose on the Plains.

Thirty-six seconds remain, and Auburn has one last play from its own 27-yard line. It’s fourth-and-18. Murray puts a white cap on to cover his bruised forehead, and he kneels on the sideline, a play away from still having a prayer in the SEC East.

Pause.

This is all you know. You don’t know the thing that of course, by now, you surely know. You don’t know what everybody knows. OK? Cool. Let’s live these next 11 seconds together.

Well, Auburn is going to lose. Nick Marshall is in shotgun and Georgia is rushing three, dropping everyone else into coverage. The ball will sail some 50 yards in the air and then bounce harmlessly to the turf, just like the Tigers’ hopes of winning the SEC title.

Not even two hours ago, everybody seemed so convinced. After two drives, Marshall had completed four of six passes – more completions than he had in all of last week’s win at Tennessee – and Tre Mason was running hard and Auburn was out to a 10-0 lead. Mason entered the game averaging 5.7 yards per carry, with Marshall at 7.1, and it was clear coach Gus Malzahn wasn’t going to allow Georgia to sit on his run. If the Bulldogs forced the Tigers to throw it, Malzahn said, then they’ll throw it.

CANDY FOR THE EARS

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With a couple minutes remaining in the first quarter, a not-so-small grouping of fans and writers began talking about the Iron Bowl coming up against Alabama in two weeks. Auburn, a team very mediocre against the pass – 7.1 yards per attempt, 60th in the nation – was facing one of the best throwing quarterbacks in college football and, I guess, that wasn’t enough reason for concern. Bring on Bama!

And what an Iron Bowl it was shaping up to be. The game would decide the SEC West and possibly whether or not the conference would have a team in the national title game. Undefeated Alabama, of course, is in.

But if Auburn won and then two one-loss teams were the SEC title game, would Florida State and Ohio State then be considered the frontrunners to meet in Pasadena? This, in addition to every Alabama family fight over the next two weeks, would have clung to that Nov. 30 football game in Auburn.

Oh, well. The thought was fun at least.

With Auburn’s loss, now Alabama will clinch the West by beating Mississippi State later tonight. Let’s get on with it.

Good news for Georgia: With this win, it’s still alive in the SEC East race. Even with conference losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt, the Dawgs have a little life left, but two things need to happen.

First, they need to win out. At Auburn was their last truly tough test, so good on the Dawgs for getting that done and moving on to a home game against Kentucky and then a visit to Georgia Tech. Those wins would lock in 9-3 (6-2 SEC).

Second, they need Missouri to lose out. Yes, that seems like a lot, particularly with the Tigers coming off a bye this week and are set to get quarterback James Franklin back from a shoulder injury for their final two games. But it’s not unfathomable, right? Mizzou goes to Ole Miss, where the Rebels, elbow-deep in both talent and inconsistency, have beaten LSU this season. Then the Tigers finish the regular season at home against Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel.

It’s plausible, at the very least, that they stumble home and finish with three league losses, which would create a two-way tie at 6-2 between Georgia and South Carolina. The Dawgs beat the Gamecocks in Week 2 and therefore would advance to Atlanta as the SEC East champion.

I know, we’re asking for planets to collide for Georgia, but – this is important to remember -- we live in a world where a 5-year-old Batman just saved a major American city from itself! You don’t think a couple things on a football field can break right for Georgia? No, you don’t? KG …

Just an aside: That’s a really cozy looking pocket Marshall has up there. Georgia is dropping everyone into coverage, so it’s not really a surprise, but man, look at all that nice green turf Marshall has to step up into away from the defender nipping at his ankles, plant and deliver a throw downfield.

For fun, let’s see how far Marshall can chuck it.

Hey, that ball looks pretty.

Of course, it’s Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis against three Bulldog defenders, but at least the ball looks nice in flight. We should take this moment, while Auburn’s last wish is going unfulfilled, to praise the quarterbacks.

Marshall completed 15-of-26 passes – his most completions and attempts since his 17-of-33 performance against LSU on Sept. 21 – for 229 yards and one TD with zero picks. He also ran the ball 19 times for 89 yards and two scores. If you’re into advanced stats, his 72.4 adjusted total QBR (QB rating) for the game was below his 77.5 season rate but still plenty good to win.

WE ARE FIRED UP!

College football fans are some of the most passionate in sports. See them in action.

If nothing else, Marshall bent the perceptions of him a little bit, the perceptions that he’s a run-only, don’t-worry-about-the-pass quarterback. True, his legs will probably always be his best threat – and Malzahn might grind Mason into a fine orange-and-blue powder before the season’s out – but he’s not some gimmick. He gave defensive coordinators enough to consider a little more balance in their game plans.

Murray went 33-of-49 four 415 yards, two TDs and one interception. He ran the ball nine times for 37 yards and two more scores, including on fourth-and-goal from the Auburn 5-yard line with less than two minutes remaining, giving Georgia the lead.

Before that, Murray connected with Rantavious Wooten and Arthur Lynch on touchdown passes to set up his run, which erased the 37-17 lead Auburn carried into the fourth quarter.

He was brilliant in the final 15 minutes. So good, I hope the Georgia dream scenario does play out. I hope it follows up this win with two more and Missouri loses twice and Murray, a senior, gets another shot at the SEC title that died on the 5-yard line against Alabama last season.

Our perfect Iron Bowl game is ruined, so why not become a Dawg?

Come on Georgia secondary, knock this ball down for your buddy Murray and head on back to Athens. That’s the least you can do. 

So, this is interesting. Georgia has triple coverage on Ricardo and not one but TWO defenders on top of the football, batting it away.

What’s Georgia’s win expectancy in this very instant? Like 99.9986 percent? Ricardo has his back to the throw and is out of arms reach of the football – not exactly the optimal position to make a miraculous play.

Yet, shouldn’t the ball be in the defenders’ hands or descending to the turf? Why does it look deflected upward into the air?

That’s not exactly how they teach it in secondary school, is it?

Just stop it, Auburn.

Nobody’s SEC title and national title hopes are saved on a fourth-and-18 Hail Mary from your own 27-yard line, thrown into triple coverage to a receiver who had 19 catches and one TD on the season coming into this game.

A receiver whose career-long catch (46 yards) wouldn’t even get you into the red zone from where you’re standing.

Hahaha … HAHAHA … just stop.

What. The. Finebaum.

Hold on, did he – did he catch that? I’m not convinced.

Let’s bring in our supercharged HD cameras to confirm. 

(Can’t breathe.)

(Can’t think.)

(Can’t feel.)

(Am I dead?)

SOMEBODY CHECK ON PAAAWWWWL!

HURRY, SOMEBODY CHECK ON PAAAWWWWL!

THE IRON BOWL IS ALIVE! THE SEC WEST IS ALIVE!

PLEASE, SOMEBODY, ANYBODY, GO CHECK ON PAAAWWWL!

(If you love sports, do yourself a favor and watch the play again below, but this time with the Auburn radio call that will be remembered forever.)

If you missed it, there was an upset Saturday night

It’s hard to believe USC beating No. 4 Stanford is a secondary story in Week 12, but it was huge in its own right, so let’s address it real quick.

We presumed that for the Trojans to have any shot at beating the Cardinal, running back Javorius “Buck” Allen must have at least an average running day. He’d gone for more than 130 yards in each of his previous two games, and anything less than 100 against Stanford would seem like trouble for USC.

“We are a running team that sets up our explosion pass game,” USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton told me a couple days before the game. “We struggle a little bit when can’t run the ball.”

So if you penciled Allen in for 26 yards rushing against the Cardinal, that would seem like a devastating scenario for USC. Add in that Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney rushed for 158 yards and two TDs, and it’s an easy call: Stanford wins.

Except Helton called a more aggressive game from the start, putting the ball in QB Cody Kessler’s hands immediately, including on USC’s first play, a nine-yard completion to Nelson Agholor. USC typically tries to establish its run game first, Helton says, so it can go play-action and throw over the top. It hasn’t yet been able to beat a team primarily by the pass.

“That’s our strength,” Helton told me, referring to USC’s run-first, throw-second attack. “We want to stay extremely balanced, and we’ve fallen into that over the last two games.”

In the first quarter against Stanford, the Trojans ran 16 plays: eight Kessler throws, eight Allen runs. The second quarter: six throws, three rushes, with Tre Madden and Ty Isaac getting the carries.

In the second half, Helton didn’t back it off and play conservative; he dialed up 13 Kessler throws and five runs in the third quarter. On fourth-and-two from the Stanford 48, in a tie game with 1:23 remaining, Ed Orgeron decided to go for it, and Helton gave the ball to Kessler, who delivered a dart on a quick slant to Marqise Lee that went for 13 yards and set up USC’s game-winning field goal.

“We stress three things: decision making, timing and accuracy,” Helton said regarding Kessler. “He’s really progressing and doing a nice job of putting the ball in the right place.”

The fourth-down toss to Lee was a perfect picture of that, a beautiful ball squeezed into a tight window and another well-executed pass call on a night that Helton flipped USC’s script and won a game through the air.

The buzzer

Four mostly irrelevant things that happened this week.

What did it feel like to be a Georgia coach during the Auburn miracle play? Here:

Kansas won a Big 12 game, the goal posts ended up in a lake and Charlie Weis told his players to go party. Just another Saturday in Lawrence.

Have you ever seen a 6-foot-4, 400-pound high school running back? Now you have.

So the UCF Knights have something to say about the best catch of Week 12:

Notes from the nation

An assortment of links from around Week 12 in college football.

SEC

After the Marshall's miracle, Auburn is 10-1 (6-1) and one win away from playing for the SEC title. Man, can’t wait two weeks for the Iron Bowl.

Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide were sluggish at Mississippi State, but they got the win and can now turn their focus to Auburn (no disrespect, Chattanooga). It wasn’t AJ McCarron’s best day – 18-of-32, 187 yards, two TDs, two picks – but TJ Yeldon picked up the offensive slack with 160 yards on the ground.

Ole Miss set a school record for yards in a game (751) against Troy and can play spoiler next week in the SEC East when Missouri comes to Oxford.

South Carolina beat Florida in its final SEC game of the season, and now it awaits its fate in the East division. You’d rather be Mizzou, with total control over the outcome, but the Gamecocks aren’t in a terrible position. Winning at Ole Miss and at home against Texas A&M – what Missouri needs to do to win the East – will be tough.

PAC-12

Andre Heidari’s foot didn’t fail the Trojans this time, as he booted a 47-yard game winner later Saturday evening in the Coliseum. USC (8-3, 5-2 Pac-12) has Colorado and UCLA left and is one loss behind Arizona State in the Pac-12 South. The Sun Devils are at UCLA next week and then finish at home against Arizona. So, yes, the Trojans are very much alive in the conference race.

How about Washington State? The Cougars won at Arizona Saturday to move to 5-5 and are one win away from becoming bowl eligible in Mike Leach’s second season in Spokane. What’s left for WSU: vs. Utah, at Washington.

One week after watching its national title hopes (likely) fall apart at Stanford, Oregon beat Utah and is back in control of the Pac-12 North with Stanford’s loss at USC. The Ducks (9-1, 6-1) have at Arizona and home against Oregon State left on the schedule before the Pac-12 championship game. How does an Oregon-Ohio State Rose Bowl sound?

Todd Graham has taken a lot of heat for the way he’s got up and left programs in the past, but give him credit here: Arizona State is 8-2 (6-1) and in total control of its Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl hopes.

BIG 12

For once, Baylor didn’t come right out of the gate and smoke its opponent. You wouldn’t know by the 63-34 final score, but the Bears struggled a little early against Texas Tech. Good, says Art Briles. He doesn’t want everything to be easy for his team. Next week at Oklahoma State certainly won’t be.

Oklahoma State got a big win on the road in Austin and now prepares for a huge league game against Baylor. Stillwater will be on fire next Saturday night. Is this the setting – and the defense – that hands the Bears their first loss?

It’s a little late for Oklahoma, with two losses in Big 12 play, but it crushed Iowa State Saturday and is still playing for a good bowl game.

BIG TEN

Another day, another win for Ohio State. That makes a perfect 10-0 (6-0) for the Buckeyes, and they’ll be nestled in comfortably again at No. 3 in the BCS standings, waiting for somebody to trip up. Their only test left: the Big Ten title game against (likely) Michigan State.

Speaking of the Spartans, they handled Nebraska fine on the road. Hey, they put up 41 points too, with Jeremy Langford rushing for 151 yards on 32 carries.

Wisconsin smashed Indiana and, at 8-2, continues to help Ohio State a little bit by virtue of being an OK win for the Buckeyes.

ACC

So, yeah, no distractions for Florida State. The Noles crushed Syracuse.

GO DEEPER!

For true college football fun, news, analysis and more, check out all the latest from Clay Travis at Outkick The Coverage.

How about Duke? The Blue Devils beat Miami to improve to 8-2 and are now two wins away – road games at Wake Forest and North Carolina – from winning the ACC Coastal division and playing Florida State in the conference title game. Heck of a year for David Cutcliffe over there in Durham.

Ryan Switzer saved the Tar Heels by returning two punts for touchdowns against Pitt. North Carolina is now is now 5-5 – an achievement after being 1-5 four games ago – and should become bowl eligible next week by beating Old Dominion. If the Heels beat Duke to end the regular season at 7-5 and then win whatever bowl game they go to, it’d leave a little better taste heading into the offseason.

OTHERS

BCS buster update: No. 15 Northern Illinois beat Ball State last Wednesday to remain unbeaten.

Tagged: Marshall, Stanford, USC, Missouri, Alabama, Cody Kessler, Tre Madden, Tre Mason, Nick Marshall, Aaron Murray, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, UCF, Texas A&M, Ohio, Florida, Mississippi, Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas, AJ McCarron, Auburn, Georgia

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