The top rushing team and the No. 2 rushing defense in Southeastern Conference will collide Saturday at the SEC Championship Game when Auburn’s dynamic rushing attack takes on Missouri’s version of old man football.
Throughout the course of the season, opponents held Auburn under 200 yards rushing just once, with War Eagle putting up more than 300 yards on the ground in half of its contests. The Missouri defense didn’t once allow opponents over the 200 yard mark, holding four opponents below 100.
Even with the Black and Gold’s robust performance, Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said he’ll need more out of his players against Auburn’s ground attack.
“Yes, everybody on defense, whichever 11 guys are on the field,” Steckel said. “They have to do what they’re supposed to do, and they have to tackle the guy with the ball.”
The guy who will have the ball in his hands on just about every snap is quarterback Nick Marshall. The 6-foot-1 junior will pass 1,000 rushing yards on the year if he reaches his season average of 84 yards per game. He averages 6.6 yards per carry and has contributed to 21 touchdowns this season, 10 on the ground, 11 through the air.
“Their offensive scheme is really good, (and their) quarterback is a great player,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “They have a quarterback, a Brad Smith-type athlete back there. They run forms of the triple-option; it’s the wishbone but it’s not the wishbone. They do it different ways, but it’s the same principles in a lot of respects. They have a great offensive scheme and they’re very good at it and they have a talented tailback.”
“Talented” might sell Auburn’s tailback short. Junior Tre Mason has tallied 1,317 yards in 2013, more than 130 more than the next most yards.
But he won’t get anywhere near his season average of 110 yards going against Missouri’s defense, right? Well, not necessarily.
Missouri ranks second in the SEC in opponent yards per game. The first? Alabama. That didn’t work out so well for the Crimson Tide in its 34-28 Iron Bowl loss. The Auburn Tigers didn’t deviate from their game plan, running the ball 52 times for 296 yards, with 164 of those yards coming from Mason.
To avoid being washed away like the Tide, Pinkel said the defense would have to focus on their assignments. Steckel looks for a combination of chalk and heart.
“It’s getting great effort within the scheme,” Steckel said.