Nov 1, 2014; Oxford, MS, USA; Ole Miss Rebels and Auburn Tigers teams face at the line of scrimmage during the first half at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. (Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports)
AUBURN, Ala., (C+P) — When Tre Mason was drafted this past May, the Auburn Tigers seemed to have no hope of making it back to the National Championship Game. Critics were attacking Auburn all summer, saying that a run-first offense just won’t work consistently in college, Nick Marshall isn’t ready to be a pocket passer, and they really just got lucky last season. Well after starting 7-1 with convincing wins over SEC rivals LSU and Ole Miss, the Auburn Tigers are really starting to make some noise again.
A big part of Auburn’s success this season is their new and improved defense. In 2013, Auburn ranked 48th out of 125 FBS colleges in points allowed per game. In 2014, Auburn ranks 35th, surrender an average of only 22 points per game. Although this may seem like a lot, it is negligible compared to the 38.8 points per game that Auburn scores.
The Tigers have also had tremendous success on the line of scrimmage this season. On defense, Auburn has done a fantastic job getting to opposing quarterbacks lately, including four sacks on Bo Wallace in Auburn’s road win over Ole Miss.
The offensive line has been the real MVP of this Auburn squad so far in 2014. Auburn’s line has absolutely dominated opponents in both the running game and in pass protection. In fact, through the first eight games this season quarterback Nick Marshall has only been sacked six times. Auburn’s offensive line has also played a huge part in their continued running success this season. Auburn currently ranks 9th in the nation with 277.5 yards per game. With the offensive line paving the way, Cameron Artis-Payne has maintained the same level of productivity that Tre Mason produced last season.
Arguably no one on Auburn’s squad has benefited more from the improved offensive line play than Nick Marshall. In fact, almost all of Marshall’s stats have risen from their 2013 levels, both passing and rushing. Marshall is currently averaging about 6.6 yards per carry, even more than Artis-Payne. Marshall has also seen significant improvements in his completion percentage and total yards in 2014, as well as a decrease in total interceptions.
Perhaps most important stat increase Marshall has enjoyed this season is in his total touchdown numbers. Marshall had 26 total touchdowns last season, 14 passing and 12 on the ground; and in his eight games so far this season he has already found the end zone 22 times. Marshall has also earned the third highest total quarterback rating with an 89.2, only two points behind projected first overall draft pick and Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota.
With fantastic play coming from every position on the field it’s no wonder the Auburn Tigers are projected to be one of the four teams in the first ever College Playoffs. Auburn’s biggest game of the season is coming up November 29th on the road against Alabama. A victory over the rival Crimson Tide would be enough to slingshot the Tigers into the playoffs and probably all the way to a second straight BCS Championship appearance.