Rivalry weekend in the SEC certainly lived up to the hype.
With an Egg Bowl for the ages, heroics from LSU backup quarterback Anthony Jennings, Georgia's victory over Georgia Tech in double overtime and the most improbable finish in college football history taking place in the Iron Bowl, Week 14 as a post-Thanksgiving buffet of college football deliciousness.
What did we learn this week?
Auburn's No Fluke
Yes, the final two games of the regular season at Jordan-Hare Stadium have been decided on improbable plays.
Don't let the oddity of the two game-defining plays—the 73-yard touchdown pass from Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis to beat Georgia 43-38 two weeks ago and the 109-yard missed-kick return for a touchdown as time expired by Chris Davis to beat Alabama 34-28—fool you. Auburn is no fluke.
The Tigers went toe-to-toe with No. 1 Alabama in the midst of a dynasty and won the game playing their own game.
Ground and pound.
The unstoppable force met the immovable object on the Plains, as Auburn's dominant rushing attack went up against Alabama's SEC-best rush defense.
The unstoppable force won, as Auburn rushed for 296 yards against a defense that came in giving up just 91.27 rushing yards per game. Running back Tre Mason rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown, while Marshall added 99 of his own.
"Our mindset was to run the football," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "I didn't want to change anything. I wanted to do what got us here. If they were good enough to stop it, so be it, but that's what we are good at."
Auburn's effectiveness on the ground is what led to wide receiver Sammie Coates being wide open on the game-tying 39-yard touchdown pass from Marshall with 32 seconds left.
"It was one of those things like 'Do we throw the football?' But I felt like we were getting a rhythm and a cheap one from their corner," Malzahn said. "He kind of came off and Nick looked back and said 'Let's run the same play.' He knew what we were thinking and made a great throw."
Don't be fooled by the crazy finishes, Auburn is legit.
Defense Wins Championships, and It Won the SEC East for Missouri
Missouri's mission in order to claim its first SEC East title was to become the second team in as many weeks to solve the Johnny Manziel riddle.
The Tigers held Manziel to 195 passing yards, 21 rushing yards on 11 attempts and sacked him twice in the 28-21 win over Texas A&M.
"How about those Tigers. I am so proud of our team and coaches," head coach Gary Pinkel said in quotes released by Missouri. "It was not going to be easy, we played a great second half. We held them to 21 points, which is (almost) impossible. We scored 21 points in the second half, we did a lot of great things in the fourth quarter."
Missouri will now try to slow down the SEC's best rushing attack when it faces Auburn in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Not many teams have solved that riddle this year, but Missouri cleared a major hurdle when it shut down Texas A&M on Saturday night.
If it can repeat the feat against Auburn, it can call itself something nobody thought possible when the season started.
Georgia Is in Good Hands with QB Hutson Mason
It took a while, but redshirt junior Hutson Mason made his first career start for the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday against Georgia Tech in a game in which he will never forget.
Mason completed 22-of-36 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in Georgia's 41-34, double overtime win over Georgia Tech in Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. Mason led his team back from a 20-0 second-quarter hole.
"Momentum's huge in a road game, and with that environment and being down 20, they had all of it in the first half," Mason said, according to David Ching of ESPN.com. "And you can see how quickly it can change."
It changed because Mason settled in, which is a good sign for the Georgia program moving forward. Missouri will have Maty Mauk at quarterback, Jeff Driskel should be back from his ankle injury for Florida and senior QB Connor Shaw will move on from South Carolina.
Mason got valuable experience in the win over Georgia Tech, and considering the Bulldogs play Clemson and South Carolina in the first month of 2014, that experience is invaluable.
The End of an Era?
The South Carolina senior class led by quarterback Connor Shaw has led the program to an unprecedented level of success. If Saturday's 31-17 win over Clemson was its swan song, it went out on a high note.
Shaw threw a touchdown pass, rushed for 94 yards and added another score on the ground to lead the Gamecocks to their fifth straight win over Clemson. The win moves Shaw to 26-5 as a starter, 17-0 at home and gives the Gamecocks their third straight double-digit win season—after having only one prior to Spurrier's arrival before the 2005 season.
"Connor Shaw, best quarterback in school history," head coach Steve Spurrier said in quotes released by South Carolina. "He's probably the difference-maker for us. Running the ball and throwing the ball he had a successful game."
On top of Shaw's departure, junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and cornerback Victor Hampton will also likely bolt to the pros. If this is the end of an era, the players leaving the program can sleep well knowing they've led South Carolina football to the most prosperous time in program history.
Not a bad legacy to leave.
LSU's Future is Bright
Yes, LSU struggled in a 31-27 win over an Arkansas team that finished winless in the SEC. And the Tigers needed a 49-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Jennings to Travin Dural with 1:15 to play to get that win.
But don't worry about the close nature of the game, because the future of the Tigers looks bright.
Jennings—a true freshman who came in for an injured Zach Mettenberger in the fourth quarter—led LSU on a 99.99-yard game winning drive with 3:04 to play that was capped off with the strike to Dural, another freshman.
"I was the backup and I came in and I always prepare like a starter," Jennings said in quotes released by LSU. "Coach Cam [Cameron] says, ‘Always play like a starter,’ and that’s what I did.”
He "was" the backup.
He won't be next year, and assuming wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry and running backs Jeremy Hill and Kenny Hilliard don't declare early, the offense should still be in good hands.
Jennings came up big for the Tigers in a huge spot, Dural had his breakout game and junior running back Terrence Magee—who rushed for 58 yards and two touchdowns—looked every bit like a feature back.
Add in what will surely be a top-five recruiting class, and LSU's going to be just fine.
Power in the state of Mississippi swung back to Starkville on Thanksgiving night, as Mississippi State topped Ole Miss 17-10 in overtime in the Egg Bowl—which provided a nice little appetizer for the rivalry weekend feast.
Bulldog quarterback Dak Prescott—who was nursing a shoulder injury—took it in from three yards out on a 4th-and-1 in overtime to give Mississippi State the lead. Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace couldn't hold serve and fumbled into the end zone in the bottom half of overtime to seal the win for the Bulldogs.
It also shifted momentum back to Starkville after Uncle Mo spent the last 365 days residing in Oxford.
"We found a way to win and that’s what’s most important," head coach Dan Mullen said in quotes released by Mississippi State. "Unbelievable job. Having this trophy back where it belongs is a special, special deal.”
Special indeed. It's the fourth Egg Bowl win in five years for Mississippi State, and brings the Bulldogs even (3-5) with Ole Miss in the SEC standings.
It saved Mississippi State's season, and gave Uncle Mo a familiar home in the Magnolia State.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes from the Iron Bowl were obtained firsthand.
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