Whatever you want to call it, Auburn’s improbable final touchdown play to beat Georgia on Saturday was more than just a fortuitous bounce at an opportune time. That nine-second memory encapsulated the Tigers’ entire season and was the perfect synopsis for what SEC football has been like in 2013.
Certainly, the play will go down in history. Nick Marshall and Ricardo Louis should brace themselves to see it and talk about it for the rest of their lives.
Just like Doug Flutie (the 1984 Heisman with Boston College) still getting asked about his Hail Mary against Miami, or Georgia’s Buck Belue and Lindsay Scott watching younger versions of themselves beating Florida on an endless loop for more than three decades.
In short the Tigers’ miracle will be relived on jumbo screens and pre-game shows as long as Auburn fields a football team.
The 73-yard touchdown pass — which riccocheted off two Georgia defenders before landing softly and perfectly into Louis’s hands — is unquestionably the SEC’s most dramatic play of the year. But it isn’t the first break of the Tigers’ improbable run to 10-1 (6-1 in SEC action).
Head coach Gus Malzahn could have easily lost his Auburn head-coaching debut on Aug. 31. Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday was marching the Cougars in for a go-ahead score, before an end-zone interception on 1st goal halted Wazzu’s momentum.
That turned out to be one of the least dramatic breaks for the Tigers.
Malzahn had to thank his lucky stars that a couple of Mississippi State linebackers tripped over one another at Jordan-Hare in the final two minutes of that Sept. 14 game. Missed tackles allowed Marshall to scamper for 11 yards on a 3rd-and-10 play with time running out.
Marshall kept the drive alive and led the Tigers to the winning touchdown with only seconds remaining.
And, of course, there was the Texas A&M game where Auburn trailed by three with 90 seconds to play. That was when Marshall completed a 27-yard pass to Marcus Davis on 3rd and 9 — a play that set up the go-ahead score with 1:20 left.
Any or all of those plays could have gone the other way. And while it’s unfair to say the Tigers have gotten lucky — they have consistently executed under extreme pressure — it’s not a stretch to say things have certainly fallen in their favor.
Now, Auburn has the potential to spoil Alabama’s quest for a third straight national title with a home win at next week’s Iron Bowl (Nov. 29). The Tigers could also break the SEC streak of seven consecutive BCS championships.
Perched at No. 6 in the polls, the Tigers would likely move up to No. 4 if they upset their in-state rivals on Thanksgiving Friday. As a consequence, the BCS national title game would then pair Ohio State-Florida State in the championship bout, with Baylor holding the No. 3 slot.
Even if Auburn beats Alabama and then defeats Missouri or South Carolina in the SEC title game, the rest of the college football world might be so desperate for a non-SEC national champion … the one-loss Tigers could never leapfrog the undefeated Buckeyes or Bears.
There will be plenty of arguing about possible bowl matchups over Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, but one thing is certain:
This year’s Iron Bowl will be epic; and the entire college football universe will be watching and rooting for one side or the other.