All Aboard the Gus Bus
Former cornerback Nick Marshall quarterbacks the Tigers and as you might imagine, Auburn is not very proficient in throwing the football: the Tigers sport the nation's 107th ranked passing offense. Marshall's completion percentage is just a shade over 60% and the junior has just 12 TDs in the air this season.
Their defense is not much to write home about either. Nationally, Auburn ranks 87th in total defense, gives up an average of 423.5 yards per game, has no stars on the defensive side of the ball and gave up 38, 28 and 42 in their last three games of the season.
Before you start throwing your "blatant homerism" flag at your computer screen, calm yourself. These are facts. Auburn isn't great at a lot of things. But that's not Auburn's game. They're not going to air it out on you. Marshall throws only when he absolutely has to. He attempted just 11 passes in the SEC title game and hasn't completed more than 20 passes in a game the entire season. He's also been in single digits in pass attempts a couple of times in 2013: at Arkansas, at Tennessee and vs. Florida Atlantic, but he left that game early with a shoulder injury. The defense isn't going to grind you to a halt. They're pretty much there to give the offense a breather.
The Tigers do one thing, but they do that one thing very well: run the football. Somehow, in one season, Malzahn has taken a hapless offense and turned it into the best rushing attack in the country. The Tigers posted nearly 600 yards of rushing offense against Mizzou in the SEC title game, 296 against Bama the week before and 323 in the Georgia game. Tre Mason is putting up video game-type numbers. 304 against Mizzou? No problem. 164 and a TD against the impenetrable Bama? You got it.
The Tigers greatest advantage is their momentum. After the aforementioned miracles, they have to feel like they're bullet-proof. Auburn has been through the fire and come out the other side enough times this season that No. 1 Florida State will seem no obstacle for their confidence.
"This is Our Time"
Seminole fans will remember when Christian Ponder left for the NFL in 2011 and EJ Manuel was finally going to get his shot as the lead man instead of performing mop-up duty or filling in when Ponder's wonky elbow went haywire.
Three straight losses in late September and early October 2011 tempered that feeling pretty quickly and while EJ's career was remarkable, it didn't take the football program to the heights that fans wanted. Florida State was a perennial power in Bowden's time and Tallahassee was impatient with EJ and Jimbo in those years.
Enter 2013 and Jameis Winston, who, by the time he's done will likely be the most prolific quarterback in Florida State history. I purposely excluded Jameis from my preseason Heisman column and was hesitant to sing his praises after he threw just two incompletions against Pitt in the season opener.
As a writer, I often try and remove the rose-colored glasses of a fan and take a more detached look at situations, especially those involving Florida State. I figured if Jameis could lead the team into Death Valley in October and emerge with a victory, then it might be time to admit the Seminoles had the potential to do something special this season.
I'm not going to rehash the events of that night, nor the games that would follow, but it was at that point that it became clear that not only was this year's team capable of great things, but that Jameis was a special player and a special leader.
But Famous Jameis is only one piece of the puzzle. Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin are all within 100 yards of 1,000 yard seasons. The running back corps is three, maybe four deep if you include freshman Ryan Green. Karlos Williams, the third man on the totem poll, is averaging over eight yards a carry. Nick O'Leary is having a career year at tight end.
The defense lost several guys (including two first rounders in Bjoern Werner and Xavier Rhodes) to the NFL Draft and got better. Jeremy Pruitt and his squad experienced some growing pains in the first few games of the season (see Boston College), but haven't given up more than 17 points since a home win over NC State on Oct. 26.
The difference this year for FSU as opposed to the first few years of the Jimbo era is that they are a complete football team. FSU doesn't need Jameis to be the world's best sherpa and carry them to the mountain top because so many other guys are talented enough to make a difference.
The defense plays with hate in their heart. (LaMarcus Joyner became one of my favorite Seminoles of all time this season. Dude's an absolute animal.) The offense is a well-oiled machine. Special teams is no longer a liability but a strength (see Aguayo, Roberto). The coaching staff has their men believing and speaking confidently, minus the arrogance so often evident in many young athletes today.
I'd need more fingers and toes if I were to count how many times this season I've heard a guy in Garnet and Gold speaking with respect for his opponent, about the goal of a national title and handling their business. The attitude has changed. The culture has changed. As Jameis said after the Clemson game, Florida State is bringing that '90s swag back to Tallahassee. Now all that remains is to finish the job.
In 2011, the official Nike shirt for the Florida State student section was boldly emblazoned with the words, "This Is Our Time." Two years later, that might finally be the case.
Before I dole out my prediction, let's swing it over to contributor and all around good dude Gamblin' Rob (a long time Bama fan and FSU alum) for a totally unbiased prediction. Rob?
"Florida State will dominate on offense, scoring just about every possession. Their strength will come from Nick O’Leary, who will be everywhere on the field a tight end can be. The running game won’t be as impressive, as the bulk of their yardage will come through the air against an Auburn defense that ranks 95th nationally in yards per play with 5.96 given up. I’d venture to say that FSU will knock that average up a yard or two.
Auburn’s offense will struggle with its usual run attack, but find some success in the air with some mismatches and catching the defense off guard. Tre Mason will still put up good numbers, but it won’t be video game type numbers. Look for Nick Marshall to get shut down and eventually Auburn will be forced to move to a more complete style of offense to combat the stingy FSU defense.
Overall the game will seem tight in the first half, and as long as FSU stays out of turnover land, look for FSU to chop away with a 54-28 victory. Jameis Winston will come away with the MVP, with at least 4 passing TDs and at least 1 rushing.(Disclaimer: I hate Auburn more than anything. That being said, my prediction is completely unbiased. Maybe.)"
Thanks Rob. Here's my take:
Florida State is the more talented team. I believe overall they're better coached and as a whole they are a more complete football team. That's not the alumnus in me talking, that's the analyst in me talking. The Seminoles should win this game.
I wouldn't count Auburn out though. They can score in a hurry, get yardage in chunks and most of all, they believe that they should be there. Nowhere else in sports does momentum matter more than in the college game and there are a hundred different examples of the little guy punching above their weight and taking down the heavy favorite.
Make no mistake though, Auburn is no Boise State. Malzahn coached in a national title game in the not so distant past. If Auburn can stick to their game plan and get a few stops on defense, they'll be in this game in the fourth quarter and that's all they've really needed this season.
In the end though, I believe FSU will be too much for the upstart Tigers. If Florida State can build an early lead and force Nick Marshall to throw the football, they could put Auburn in hot water early. Winston will likely be a little juiced to start, but once he settles down, Auburn better look out.
Florida State pulls away in the second half, 42-27.