Hours after Chris Davis' incredible return touchdown, Missouri punched its own ticket to the SEC Championship Game by slowing down Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in a 28-21 win. With the title game participants set, we take an early look at the matchup in Atlanta next Saturday.
How They Got Here
First-year coach Gus Malzahn has led one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent memory, as Auburn has battled back from a 3-9 showing a year ago to 11-1 and knocking off undefeated Alabama in the Iron Bowl. The only loss of the season came at LSU in September, as the Tigers have developed a knack for winning SEC games in dramatic fashion here in the past two months.
Missouri jumped to the front of the SEC East with timely wins against Georgia and Florida, but truly earned a spot in the championship game against Ole Miss and Texas A&M in the last two weeks. Like Malzahn, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has received Coach of the Year consideration not only for Missouri's rapid rise in the new conference but also for accomplishing that feat with significant injury issues on both sides of the ball.
Auburn's offense vs. Missouri defense
There is no secret as to what Auburn wants to do on offense. We just witnessed the Tigers roll up 296 team rushing yards on the normally rigid Tide defense, so don't be surprised if Malzahn continues to ride that ground game in Atlanta. Running back Tre Mason (29 carries, 164 yards) and quarterback Nick Marshall (17 carries, 99 yards) pace the attack, as Auburn will want to try and use a tempo-attack to keep the Missouri defense off balance and possibly set up a play down the field. One advantage for Missouri's defense, from a preparation stand point, is that the Tigers have been dealing with tempo and dual-threat quarterbacks the last two weeks against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
Missouri offense vs. Auburn defense
James Franklin was the star of this offense before his injury, but in the weeks since Missouri has arguably become a better offensive unit. L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham have been one of the SEC's best wide receiver duos, regardless of the quarterback under center, and any combination of Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy could find success against an Auburn rush defense that is giving up 4.26 yards per carry (No. 8 in SEC, No. 68 in FBS).
It may appear lazy to lean Auburn's way for this phase of the game, but the inconsistency of Andrew Baggett's place-kicking tips the scale. Auburn has a plethora of skilled specialists; from Chris Davis, the man of the hour, to Quan Bray and Corey Grant.
Connor Shaw heroics aside, Missouri has gotten all the breaks needed to weather the program's second season in the SEC. But "getting breaks" does not come close to describing the aura around Auburn's football program right now. Finishing the season with back-to-back wins on last second touchdowns to steal the SEC West from your most-hated in-state rival -- who, by the way, has won three of the last four BCS titles -- is something that might be too unbelievable for Hollywood.
At the same time, Gary Pinkel and this Missouri program were written off by many pundits after an injury-plagued entry to the SEC. Both teams have the "team of destiny" feel heading into this unlikely matchup in Atlanta.