Auburn vs. Tennessee: Gus Malzahn's Offense Giving Us 2010 Flashbacks

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Auburn vs. Tennessee: Gus Malzahn's Offense Giving Us 2010 Flashbacks
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Auburn quarterback takes the snap, and his running back sweeps across in front of him.

He fakes to the back, then pulls the ball in and darts into the line. He finds a crease. He cuts to the right. He makes a tackler miss, and another, and then he's suddenly in the open field.

Seem familiar?

That's Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall, taking off for a 62-yard run during Auburn's 55-23 win over Tennessee on Saturday—a play almost mirroring Cam Newton's famous Heisman-clinching run against LSU three years ago.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Marshall's run early in the second quarter accounted for just a piece of his 214 total rushing yards on the day, and it brought the Tigers down to the Tennessee 13-yard line as they were trailing early, 13-6. Running back Tre Mason punched the ball in the end zone on the next play, and Auburn never looked back.

"I was really supposed to score that," Marshall said of the run post-game. "I wasn't too worried about it. Tre was able to get us in the end zone."

No, Nick Marshall isn't Cam Newton. And no, these Tigers are not the same ones that brought the BCS National Championship back to the Plains in 2010.

But for the first time since 2010, Auburn is showing flashes of brilliance—like that long run by Marshall and several other highlight-reel plays from Saturday.

No. 9 Auburn dominated Tennessee throughout the game, rolling up 444 rushing yards on the Volunteers in their own Neyland Stadium, led by Marshall, who had 249 total yards and two scores, and Mason, who finished with 117 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.

It was a complete game from the Tigers—on offense, defense and special teams. Apart from the offense's commanding play, the defense held the Volunteers to just three points in the second half, while the special teams unit set a school record with 312 combined kickoff and punt return yards and two scores.

"It was a true team effort," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. "We faced some adversity early. I was real proud of our special teams. Two special teams touchdowns, there were momentum plays that helped turn the game around. I was real proud of our discipline."

Tennessee cut the Auburn lead to 27-20 late in the second quarter, after one of the Auburn offense's few mishaps on the day—an 18-yard pick-six thrown by Marshall to Tennessee's Jacques Smith.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

"I just made a bad read," Marshall said. "I was really trying to throw it at the ground, but the (Smith) made a great play on the ball. He was just able to catch it and go into the end zone, but I just put that play behind me and came out worrying about the next drive."

Auburn responded immediately, with all the composure of a championship-caliber team.

Mason returned the ensuing kickoff to the Tennessee 45-yard line, and Ricardo Louis opened the drive with a seven-yard run on an end-around play. That's when Marshall broke free again, taking it 38 yards for his second rushing touchdown of the game, extending the Tigers' lead with under a minute to play until the half.

"That was momentum," Malzahn said. "They had all the momentum and the place was going crazy and we came back and answered and that was really a big plus."

That 38-yard score started a 28-3 scoring run for Auburn as the Tigers pulled away in the second half.

"I had to redeem myself with that one," Marshall said. "Adversity hits us and the coaches use that to tell how well we respond.

"This whole season, we've just been overcoming adversity."

There's going to be plenty more adversity to hit Auburn over the next three weeks, as the Tigers turn their eyes to Amen Corner and rivalry games against Georgia and No. 1 Alabama—both at home in the same season for the first time ever.

There's going to be a storm brewing on the Plains over the next three weeks and two games, as Auburn controls its own destiny with conference championship aspirations of its own.

Luckily for the Tigers, they just may be prepared for it.

Championship teams always are.

 

Justin Lee is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @byjustinlee. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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