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NATIONAL REPORT: Auburn pulls off improbable win over Georgia

Georgifree safety Tray Matthews (28) strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (25) try intercept as pass as Auburn wide receiver Ricardo Louis

Georgia free safety Tray Matthews (28) and strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (25) try to intercept as pass as Auburn wide receiver Ricardo Louis (5) watches late in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 in Auburn. Ala. Louis came up with the catch and ran for the game-winning touchdown. Auburn won 43-38. (AP Photo/Opelika-Auburn News, Albert Cesare)

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Updated: December 18, 2013 6:51AM



Go on, call it the play of the day. Don’t be shy about calling it the play of the season. Want to get nuts? Get nuts. Call it the greatest play of all time.

It sure felt that way to Auburn.

With a chance at victory slipping from the grasp of the Tigers — college football’s most pleasant surprise — quarterback Nick Marshall heaved the ball deep from his own 27-yard line. It was do or die, fourth-and-18, with barely half a minute remaining and his team trailing Georgia by one.

The ball was overthrown and tipped by two Bulldogs defensive backs. Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis couldn’t find the ball, but his body kept moving downfield. At the last possible moment, Louis eyeballed the pigskin, reached for it and corralled it. When he was finished running, the Tigers had a 73-yard touchdown.

They won, 43-38, to move to 10-1 overall and 6-1 in the SEC.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Louis said. “It just landed right into my hands. I saw it once it got over my shoulder. It got tipped and I lost track of it, but when I looked over my shoulders it was right there.”

Together with Missouri in the SEC East, which is on track to win that division, Auburn has upset the apple cart in the premier conference. Call it a Twin Tigers season. Mizzou, which was 5-7 overall and 2-6 in SEC games in 2012, its first year in the league, is 9-1, 5-1. Auburn was even worse last year — 3-9 overall and an utterly unacceptable 0-8 in SEC play.

That was Gene Chizik’s last go-round as coach. Chizik, who rode Cam Newton’s coattails to the 2010 BCS championship, was replaced by Newton’s former offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn. If Malzahn hasn’t wrapped up national coach of the year honors already … well, he has.

But Auburn’s Tigers aren’t finished yet. They have a week off now, with No. 1 Alabama coming in to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 30. The No. 7 Tigers — also seventh in the BCS rankings — might move up multiple spots before then.

Whatever happens, they’re still in play for the national championship. It seems the Crimson Tide or some other SEC team has to win the league’s eighth consecutive title. Why not Auburn?

“Let’s face it,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, “as good as Auburn is and has been playing, they’ve got all the momentum going.”

An Auburn-Missouri SEC title game matchup? It would be wild. It would be crazy. It would cast the conference in a weird light, for sure.

Auburn’s Tigers just want to get that far.

They’ve won close games all season. It was 31-24 in the season opener against Washington State, and 24-20 against Mississippi State two weeks later. Mississippi, Texas A&M and now Georgia also went down by eight points or less.

The Tigers have won seven straight since a hard-fought defeat at LSU, with mojo as their wingman.

“They find a way to win,” Malzahn said. “This team has the ‘it’ factor. That’s just the bottom line.”

HEISMAN WATCH

My top five if I were voting today:

1. QB Jameis Winston, Florida State. The redshirt freshman was early-season near-perfect against Syracuse: 19 of 21 for 277 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-3 victory. He’s way out in front.

2. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor. Texas Tech tried to scare the Bears, but Baylor can’t be out-Baylored. Petty went off again, of course.

3. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. You know what? This guy’s kind of lovable during a bye week. At LSU next (yikes).

4. QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois: He had that tackle-breaking Heisman moment against Ball State way back on Wednesday. But what has he done for us lately?

5. QB AJ McCarron, Alabama. Captain Cool didn’t have his best outing at Mississippi State, but he kept the Tide rolling. All he does is win.

GAME BALL

RB Jeremy Langford, Michigan State

Who says the Spartans have no offense to go with their killer defense? Langford ran all day on Nebraska’s Blackshirts — 32 carries, 151 yards, three touchdowns. If Ohio State isn’t officially scared of the well-rounded team that’s headed its way in the Big Ten title game, it should be.

GAMES OF THE WEEK/WEAK

Week: Duke 48, No. 23 Miami 30. Forget, for a moment, that the Blue Devils have absolutely no chance whatsoever to win the ACC championship game three weeks from now. This team is 8-2, 4-2 and in control of the Coastal Division, which is just plain incredible. Quarterback Brandon Connette had touchdown runs of 1, 2, 3 and 4 yards — which is so perfect considering Duke’s sterling reputation for mathematics.

Weak: No. 19 Louisville 20, Houston 13. The Cardinals were supposed to be runaway winners in the brand-spanking-new American Athletic Conference. They were the best bet to rip through the season undefeated and maybe, just maybe, take a step up from last year’s Sugar Bowl win and get into the BCS title game. Instead, they’ve been lowered to the level of their competition. First, a loss to UCF. Now, a skin-of-their-teeth victory over the Cougars. This is the most blah 9-1 team in a long time.

POLLING

Up: No. 17 Wisconsin. There isn’t much room to move up, but the Badgers are better than 17th. Especially considering they’d likely be 9-1 if not for the botched refereeing at Arizona State.

Down: No. 17 UCF. A last-second victory at 1-9 Temple? Congrats, but that’s lame.

In: Mississippi. A 51-21 victory over Troy won’t rock anybody’s boat, but the Rebels were first last week among others receiving votes.

Out: No. 24 Texas. The Longhorns aren’t out of the Big 12 hunt, but they’re out of the poll after their most lopsided home defeat under Mack Brown, 38-13 to Oklahoma State.

EXTRA POINTS

• Charlie Weis kept his job Saturday. Saved it? Maybe that, too. The Kansas coach reveled in a 31-19 victory over West Virginia, and good for him. It snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak. It was an actual win for a KU team that has played much better than it did in 2012, Weis’ first year atop that program. The high-profile Notre Dame days are long gone, but Weis has a reborn career to crow about.

• So much for Stanford staying in the national-title race. So much for the Pac-12 being that relevant. Looking long-range, though, it’s good for the league that USC upset the Cardinal. The 8-3 Trojans officially can feel as though their crazy season, which included the firing of Lane Kiffin, has been a success. Interim coach Ed Orgeron wants the job badly, but won’t get it. Whoever USC hires will have momentum, and that’s huge in light of UCLA’s rise in the Pac-12 South and Oregon’s and Stanford’s preeminence in the North.

• Heidelberg! Heidelberg! Running back Cartel Brooks of that Division III school — it’s in Ohio, for those of you scoring at home — rushed for 465 yards on Saturday. It was the highest rushing total by any football player on any college team ever. Which is completely awesome.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg



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