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Couch: Auburn's miracle men may need to pull out one more
NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF.
Chris Davis' life has changed. Completely. He likes to stay humble, and doesn't want to brag, but facts are facts. The next day he went to class after catching Alabama's missed field goal in the Iron Bowl and then running it back all the way more than 100 yards for a game-winning touchdown?
He got a standing ovation when he walked into his geology class. Later, he went to his public finance class and ... another standing ovation.
"I just stand up,'' he said, "and wave at them. I try to stay level-headed throughout the whole process.''
Davis is the leader of the Miracles, though the entire Auburn football team should be called that. It's a miracle the Tigers followed up last year's winless SEC season, when the team gave up halfway through the year, with a season that has landed them in the national championship game Monday night at the Rose Bowl against Florida State.
As you probably know, this Miracles team never gives up.
"Chris Davis' play is better than mine,'' Ricardo Louis said. "I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it.''
Well, maybe. But on Louis' miracle, Auburn was about to lose to Georgia until quarterback Nick Marshall threw a Hail Mary that really wasn't catchable. Two Georgia defenders swatted at the ball and it sort of popped up to where Louis had continued to run.
He bobbled it a few times, kept running, then held on for the touchdown. And the win.
Trivia: Before just one play all year, Louis told his coaches and Marshall to get him the ball, that he KNEW he was going to make something happen.
Guess which play.
Next time Louis went to his public-speaking class, he walked in to dead silence. He was surprised, because his teacher, a South Carolina fan, had begged him beforehand to beat Georgia. He came to class afterward and sat down quietly, with no one even looking at him. Then, while Louis looked at his phone, his professor said “3-2-1” and the whole class stood and applauded.
"His play was better," Davis said.
The Miracles are going to need another one Monday, I think. Florida State seems to be the bigger, better team. But I felt the same way about Alabama-Auburn, too.
Auburn's turnaround has been based on new coach Gus Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense. But in some ways maybe the biggest miracle was that Malzahn got his players to believe in themselves before they had done anything.
You can't argue with the element of luck when a defender bats an uncatchable ball into the hands of the receiver for a game-winning touchdown. But part of Malzahn's sales pitch has been that Auburn's offense will wear down opponents mentally.
And eventually, if the game is close, Auburn will find some way to win. A big part of everything is mentality.
But something strange is starting to happen regarding these miracle plays: The Tigers have been labeled as a team of destiny, yet "destiny" is hitting them as a swear word. Even Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston poked at it Saturday.
"I'm glad they call Auburn a team of destiny,'' he said, "because at Florida State, we control our own destiny.''
Some Auburn players are taking "destiny" to mean that they haven't worked for it, that it’s just luck.
"In any time of the game, somebody has to step up and make a play,'' Davis said. "And the Georgia game it was Ricardo, and for the Alabama game it was me. I would say hard work pays off. We are put in this position for a reason.''
Davis said that, since then, people are always coming up to him for autographs and photos. Even in class.
He’s a perfect reflection of the Auburn program. He was highly recruited out of high school and played on the national championship team three years ago with Cam Newton. But on the first play of that game, the kickoff, he suffered a high ankle sprain and watched the rest of it on crutches.
"I was running down the field and I tried to stick my feet in the ground, and my feet came from under me,'' Davis told me. "It was a tough feeling, not being able to contribute to the team to get the win. I just tried to overcome that with this opportunity that I got right now.''
But the next few years were mostly disappointment for Davis. While the team failed, he suffered several more injuries and never reached his potential.
Now, this year, he has been a top defensive back and one of the nation's best punt returners. And he's one of the Miracles.
"He's going to be remembered forever,'' teammate Robenson Therezie said. "Knowing that in one second, you can go from a regular-person football player to a celebrity. It made him feel special.''
The truth is, everyone on this team is one of the Miracles. Even Therezie. If you look carefully at the video of that Iron Bowl runback, Therezie seems to be in it all over the place.
First, he nearly blocked the field goal. Next thing you knew, he was running alongside Davis in case he needed another block. Then, Davis scored and put the ball down at Therezie's feet. Yet Therezie barely remembers it and had to watch the film to see what he had done.
"I almost blocked the kick, then I was walking toward the sideline,'' he said. "When I saw Chris Davis field the ball, my mouthpiece dropped out of my mouth. I was across the 50-yard line, I believe, and once he got closer, I just turned around and escorted him to the end zone.''
Therezie said he missed blocking that kick with his forearm by one inch. Imagine this: One more inch and he would have ruined the play.
"I don't know about that,'' Therezie said. "I probably would have scooped it up and scored.''
I have no doubt.