Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has presented a positive point of view from the day he stepped back on campus. Running back Tre Mason recalls, “One of his first sentences was, ‘We’re going to have the biggest turnaround in college football.’” The Gus Bus has gained passengers every week. Take a seat if you can still find one as we look at six moments that made a difference.
6. A SPECIAL POISE
24-20 victory vs. Mississippi State
Why it mattered: Nick Marshall drove the Tigers 88 yards in 12 plays, showing his ability to stay calm under pressure in his first real test.
By the numbers: Marshall finished 23-of-34 for 339 yards, two touchdowns. It was the Tigers’ first game-winning drive since defeating South Carolina in 2011. Mississippi State lost its first game under Dan Mullen when the Bulldogs had a fourth-quarter lead.
How it happened: C.J. Uzomah of North Gwinnett High caught an 11-yard game-winning TD pass.
What he said: “I told them that we were going to win this football game. I knew I had made mistakes throughout the game, but I didn’t let that get to me. I put it behind me.” — Marshall
5. RUSH WEEK
55-23 victory at Tennessee
Why it mattered: The visiting Tigers to this point weren’t seen as serious challengers, but they manhandled the Volunteers, who had been gaining respect with their play at Neyland Stadium.
By the numbers: Marshall rushed for 214 of Auburn’s 444 yards. The Tigers passed only nine times, but they also averaged nearly 45 yards in return on seven returns, an NCAA single-game record.
How it happened: Chris Davis, remember the name, broke an 85-yard punt return to give Auburn the lead for good, the longest for the Tigers since 1970.
What he said: “I still believe we can throw the football. There’s no doubt in my mind we can, but when you don’t have to, you don’t.” — Malzahn
4. EARLY BUMBLE
35-21 loss at LSU
Why it mattered: Despite the loss, Auburn played LSU to a standoff after falling behind early 14-0 and began to believe in themselves.
By the numbers: Jeremy Hill shredded the Tigers for 184 yards and three touchdowns, and LSU overcame Zach Mettenberger’s worst game of the season to that point.
How it happened: A Mettenberger TD pass, his only one of the game, kept Auburn at bay early in the fourth quarter.
What he said: “Our kids didn’t quit, and they’re not going to quit.” — Malzahn, sounding cliche-like, but setting the stage for the three biggest moments of the season.
3. A VALIDATING WIN
45-41 victory at Texas A&M
Why it mattered: Experts who weren’t giving Auburn much credit took note after this road victory against the then-No. 7 Aggies.
By the numbers: Marshall accounted for four scores. Johnny Manziel passed for 454 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another TD.
How it happened: Dee Ford sacked Manziel on fourth down to secure the victory with Texas A&M in Auburn territory.
What he said: “Those were tears of happiness. We did something a lot of people didn’t think we could do.” — Mason
2. LEAVING A TIP
43-38 victory vs. Georgia
Why it mattered: “The Prayer at Jordan-Hare” kept Auburn alive in the SEC West, even though everyone was sure Alabama was on its way to an SEC and BCS repeat.
By the numbers: Marshall threw a fourth-down prayer that ended in Ricardo Louis’ hands for the winning score with 25 seconds left after Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons tipped the ball away from teammate Tray Matthews, who was in position to intercept it.
How it happened: First the tip, catch and TD, and then a hit by Dee Ford on Aaron Murray deep in Auburn territory on the final play set Auburn up for a winner-take-SEC West showdown against rival Alabama.
What he said: “When I saw it get tipped around, I knew we still had a chance. It was a live ball. I saw that Ricardo still had his eyes on the ball. That’s something we work on at practice: Keep your eyes on the ball.” — Marshall
1. KICK, BAMA, KICK
34-28 victory vs. Alabama
Why it mattered: The winner would be West champs and move to the SEC Championship game, but it will go down as a play that will be remembered forever in college football.
By the numbers: An official 100-yard return of a missed 57-yard field-goal attempt actually went about 109 yards, as Chris Davis stunned all of Alabama and college football with a smart play that people would have expected more from Alabama and coach Nick Saban.
How it happened: Saban challenged the final play of regulation and got one second put back on the clock, so the Crimson Tide could try the long field goal with backup kicker Adam Griffith. No. 1 kicker Cade Foster struggled, missing three field-goal attempts, any of which would have clinched the victory. And Alabama bypassed another easy attempt because of the struggles.
What he said: “I knew when I caught the ball I would have room to run. I knew they would have big guys on the field to protect on the field goal. When I looked back, I said, ‘I can’t believe this.’” — Davis