SEC Football: What We Learned During the SEC Championship Game

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterDecember 8, 2013

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We went to the SEC Championship Game, and a track meet broke out.

Auburn and Missouri went up and down the field to combine for 1,211 total yards and 103 total points in a title game that made offensive coaches applaud and defensive coaches cringe.

In the end, it was Auburn getting the last laugh, as the Tigers scored the final 14 points of the game, pulled away from Missouri and left the Georgia Dome with a 59-42 win and the SEC Championship.

What did we learn in Week 15?

Tre Mason Deserves to be a Heisman Finalist

Heisman moment? Tre Mason had 46 Heisman moments against Missouri.

Auburn RB Tre Mason
Auburn RB Tre MasonKevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

The junior Auburn running back notched a single-game-school-record 46 carries for 304 yards and four touchdowns on Saturday afternoon against a defense that came in allowing just 119.08 yards per game on the ground. 

He rushed for 1,621 yards on the season, which puts him second in school history behind Bo Jackson’s 1,786 during his 1985 Heisman Trophy season. He scored 22 rushing touchdowns this year, which is two more than Cam Newton rushed for during his Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2010.

Being in that kind of Heisman company warrants an invitation to the 2013 Heisman Trophy ceremony.

"This is a personal goal of mine," Mason said. "Everyone has goals of their own. It was always a dream, you know, growing up, wanting to win the Heisman. I'm sure that every kid that played football, that's one of their dreams."

Auburn's offense is easy to diagnose but nearly impossible to stop, and nobody could stop Mason down the stretch. He topped the 100-yard mark in seven of the last games and averaged 6.24 yards per carry against the SEC's top two rush defenses in his final two games of the regular season.

That's a Heisman resume.

Speaking of Heisman, Don't Sleep on Dorial Green-Beckham Next Year

If you're looking ahead to the 2014 Heisman campaign, don't sleep on Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. The 6'6", 225-pounder hauled in six passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game, which continued his hot play down the stretch.

Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham
Missouri WR Dorial Green-BeckhamKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Eight of his 12 receiving touchdowns on the season came during the final five games of the season. He found success with senior quarterback James Franklin as well as freshman quarterback Maty Mauk, who'll likely be Missouri's No. 1 signal-caller during the 2014 season.

"Yeah, he really does a lot of good things," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. "I think we see things that he can do. He's gotten better and better. Just need to see that and make plays."

Green-Beckham is an NBA power forward playing wide receiver, and you saw what kind of matchup problems he creates. Sure, Auburn's secondary isn't exactly stout. In fact, it's more punch line than power. But there aren't many college football teams that have defensive backs who can match up with DGB.

Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham
Missouri WR Dorial Green-BeckhamKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Defense Doesn't Win Championships—"Just Enough" Does

You look at the box score of the SEC Championship Game, and defense isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind. Unless, of course, it's followed by immediate laughter.

But make no mistake, Auburn's defense is a big reason why the Tigers are SEC champs and going to the BCS National Championship Game.

Auburn DE Dee Ford
Auburn DE Dee FordJohn David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

They nursed a 45-41 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but buckled down and didn't allow Missouri to score a single point in the final frame of the game. 

That's no fluke. It's a trend.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's defense gave up just 4.8 points per game in the fourth quarter this season, which is 21st nationally and the fifth-best mark in the SEC.

"When we needed it and the game was on the line, our defense stepped up in the fourth quarter, got us the ball back, stopped them on fourth down when they went for it, and helped us win," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. "That's kind of been their M.O."

Auburn's defense isn't pretty. At times, it's downright ugly. But the unit buckles down when it needs to, rotates eight players along the defensive line and gets pressure with four. 

Dec 7, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback James Franklin (1) is brought down by Auburn Tigers defensive end Dee Ford (30) and defensive end Elijah Daniel (97) during the fourth quarter of the 2013 SEC Championship game at Georgia Dome. Ma
Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

A Month to Prepare Should Help Auburn's Offense

Auburn's offense picked up steam down the stretch, and certainly looked unstoppable against Missouri. It's one-dimensional by choice, not necessity. 

Auburn QB Nick Marshall
Auburn QB Nick MarshallKevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

That second dimension is coming soon.

Quarterback Nick Marshall is the first quarterback Malzahn has coached at the college level who didn't go through spring practice. On top of only having five weeks to prepare for his role as Auburn's starting quarterback, Marshall came in just one year removed from playing defensive back for the Georgia Bulldogs.

Bowl practices that mean something, with a quarterback who's clearly still raw and a head coach who is wildly creative with his offense, means that Auburn's offense should improve during the layoff.

Florida State Should Be Favored Over Auburn

Florida State boasts the nation's third-best defense (268.5 yards per game), which will present quite a challenge for the Tigers. Sure, stout defenses haven't been much of an issue down the stretch, but with a month to prepare, Seminoles' defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will have plenty of time to draw up a scheme to slow them down.

Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin
Florida State WR Kelvin BenjaminGrant Halverson/Getty Images

That's a different animal for Malzahn, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and Co. They've always been one step ahead of defenses, but now both staffs get the chance to hit the reset button and really dig deep into this matchup.

On top of that, Florida State has weapons who can exploit Auburn's pass defense in the same way Missouri did with quarterback James Franklin and wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.

Like DGB, Kelvin Benjamin looks like an NBA power forward out there. The 6'5", 234-pound sophomore has 50 catches for 957 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season. Nobody in college football can match up with him, particularly Auburn's defensive backs Chris Davis and Jonathan Mincy.

Toss in leading receiver Rashad Greene, senior Kenny Shaw and odds-on Heisman Trophy favorite Jameis Winston at quarterback, and there's no chance of Auburn slowing this group down. The Tigers are just simply going to have to outscore the 'Noles.

*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.


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