Posted November 17, 2013

Auburn’s magical ride continues behind Nick Marshall, Ricardo Louis and The Play

Auburn Tigers, Georgia Bulldogs, Gus Malzahn, SEC
Ricardo Louis

Auburn’s Ricardo Louis (5) made a stunning 73-yard TD catch to beat Georgia. (Shanna Lockwood/USA Today Sports)

AUBURN, Ala. — By all accounts, this was it. This was the moment when Auburn’s magical renaissance would end. The Tigers’ improbable quest for a BCS bowl — only a season removed from a disastrous 3-9 (0-8 SEC) campaign — would be squashed at home against a banged-up but resilient Georgia team. The momentum surrounding first-year coach Gus Malzahn’s remarkable turnaround on the Plains would be over.

On Saturday evening, when Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray willed his way to a five-yard rushing touchdown to give Georgia a 38-37 lead with 1:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Tigers’ magic had run out. Only, somehow, it hadn’t.

With 36 seconds left, on fourth-and-18 from the Auburn 27-yard line, Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall handled the snap in shotgun. He dropped back, stepped up in the pocket and let if fly. Sophomore wide receiver Ricardo Louis streaked down the middle of the field, blanketed by Bulldogs defensive backs Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons.

Harvey-Clemons deflected the pass. It floated into the outstretched arms of Louis. As the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder raced to the end zone to cap a 73-yard touchdown, a stunned Jordan-Hare Stadium began to grasp what had happened. No. 7 Auburn would beat No. 25 Georgia 43-38. The miracle ride would continue.

(Via The Big Lead)

“This team has the ‘it’ factor,” a breathless Malzahn said of his Tigers afterward. “That’s the bottom line.”

Mere seconds before The Play, Malzahn called a timeout to gather his players on the sideline. He wanted to emphasize that this scenario was nothing out of the ordinary. Still, in almost every way imaginable, it was. “We practice these situations every day in practice,” Marshall said.

During the timeout, Louis, who entered the game with 19 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown on the season, told Malzahn to let him make a play. Then, through some combination of luck, skill and timing, he did.

“This team is very unique,” Malzahn said. “There was a lot of tension and pressure since the moment had swung, but they were bright eyes in the huddle. It was really unbelievable.”

Louis joked later: “I thought I was going to drop it.”

MANDEL: Auburn stuns Georgia on play for the ages; midday Snaps

The game didn’t end immediately after The Play. Georgia drove 55 yards in the ensuing seconds before Auburn defensive end Dee Ford pressured Murray into an incompletion on first-and-five from the Tigers’ 20-yard line as time expired. But the 73-yard score (Marshall’s Miracle, or whatever they’ll call it on the Plains for decades to come) will be known as the tipping point — for Marshall, Malzahn, Louis and every player and coach involved.

“Obviously it was an unbelievable game, the way it unfolded,” Malzahn said.

Earlier in the afternoon, the Tigers jumped out to a 37-17 lead. They finished with 323 rushing yards and 566 yards of total offense. Marshall, a onetime Georgia defensive back who was dismissed from the program after he and two others were caught stealing from a teammate in 2012, passed for 229 yards, rushed for 89 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns.

But this game wasn’t about stats or individual performances. It was about the type of moment that, however briefly, makes fans everywhere appreciate why this sport is truly special.

For Auburn, The Play keeps dreams of an SEC title and BCS berth alive. Once an unlikely feel-good story, the Tigers are now the biggest threat to rival Alabama’s continued run of dominance. The Iron Bowl on Nov. 30 will decide the SEC West, an incredible turn of events since Auburn’s 49-0 loss to the Crimson Tide on Nov. 24, 2012.

“I’ve never been a part of something like this,” Louis said. “It’s a dream come true.”

For Georgia, The Play serves as the latest and most heartbreaking blow in a season full of peaks and valleys. It officially eliminates the Bulldogs from SEC East contention. It delivers another crushing defeat to a program that came within five yards of playing for the BCS title last season. For Murray, the SEC’s all-time passing leader, it erases the comeback that might have gone down as his most impressive achievement.

The senior quarterback returned to Athens last offseason in search of a national championship. Thanks to one of college football’s most injury-plagued rosters, it soon became apparent that a trip to Pasadena wasn’t a realistic possibility. Murray’s performance on Saturday demonstrated the resiliency that has made him one of the greatest quarterback in conference history — he just happened to walk into the locker room on the wrong end of the scoreboard.

After the game, Richt spoke fondly of Murray’s role in spearheading the Dawgs’ second-half rally.

“I didn’t know what to say after that,” Richt said about the game. “… I think most teams would have folded or found a reason to quit but they didn’t do that. I just talked [to them] a little bit about what we could learn from it.”

Soon, talk on the Plains will turn to ‘Bama. After a bye week, Malzahn and his staff will work tirelessly to come up with a plan to upset quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon and the unbeaten Tide. A game that was supposed to mean nothing now means everything.

For now, however, Malzahn is going to relish the moment when the magic continued.

“I’m going to enjoy this one tonight,” Malzahn said. “That one aged me. I’ve lost some years off my life. I’ll go to church in the morning and after church I will flip the switch.”

37 comments
oneinamillion02x
oneinamillion02x

To the UGA fans or other ones still hollering "luck" and Auburn is just lucky….10 WINS DOESN'T come from luck alone..LET IT GO!  MOVE ON!!!  If you want to talk about luck UGA has just had BAD luck this year and it happen oh well, that is just the way life works sometimes. Championship teams all have luck along the way….(like AU needed luck to beat Arkansas, UT, and other…PLEASE). Aaron Murray deserves all the accolades for what he did in the game, but in the end AU won…now it's time to move on. UGA has Kentucky and Tech and AU definitely has business to take care on Nov 30th.  To the Bama fans having something to say, make sure your boys get their crap together, because Auburn is not Mississippi State…they will score on turnovers…just saying.

steve5055
steve5055

Kenbigbee here are the main play-makers on offense still injured for Georgia: Malcolm Mitchell (starting WR), Justin Scott-Wesley (Malcolm's replacement at WR), Jay Rome (the other starting tight end), and Keith Marshall (2nd string TB). Chris Conley (WR) who just returned from injury played some in the Auburn game but was only about 80%. The two starters who were really totally back from injury were Michael Bennett and Todd Gurley. No one is looking for pity here, you are the one who brought it up and you don't seem to have the right information.

KenBigbee
KenBigbee

Banged up Georgia team.  I believe Richt and ESPN said Georgia was almost 100% back with exception of 2nd team RB.

DocHollamon
DocHollamon

Same thing happened in the Ravens -Bengals game last Sunday, hail mary gets tipped AJ Green catches it for the td. Now surely if this could happen to grown professional men, that has been playing for years it can happen to 19-22 yo college kids. It's very easy to say what they should have did when you're watching at home on your couch. Anyone can say knock it down, that's easy, but doing it isn't.

AllisGrace
AllisGrace

I want to say congratulations to Auburn and Coach Malzahn for an important win to keep their SEC west title hopes alive. After the previous three years of struggles, it is nice to see that Coach Malzahn has helped these players to believe in themselves and also believe they have a chance to win every week. It is nice to see a school rebound from the disaster of a program that was spiraling into the abyss as the losses piled up and the confidence of the players evaporated. A new coach with a new vision has brought these young men to a single game season in two weeks. Wow well done Auburn and keep believing and fighting, and I hope you take the SEC west in two weeks.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

Luck was involved, yes, but good teams make their own luck. Louis showed terrific concentration keeping his eyes on the ball, then juggling it, and catching it. He was past the defenders, turned his head, and zeroed in on the ball. That is NOT luck. It is very skillful play. I have no stake in either of these teams, I was watching to be entertained by good football. And I was rewarded with it. Remember, teams practice the 'hail Mary' kind of play every week. They work on the 'tip drill'. Auburn earned that catch, and the win. If, for whatever reason, you hate Auburn, I can understand you being annoyed with what happened, but don't dismiss it as 'pure luck', because it was not.

weir6
weir6

Georgia once again shown that they are the poorest-tackling team in the SEC.  Todd Grantham is one of the true jerks in collegiate sports, and he deserves this complete thrashing.  The defense, while filled with top-shelf talent year after year, is consistently fundamentally flawed.  That's coaching.  Georgia gives up 30 points per game, so they don't deserve to EVER be mentioned among the nation's elite.  As long as the culture of finesse is present on the defrensive side of the ball, Georgia is going to remain a bubble team.


Todd Grantham: if you'd stop making choke signs on the sidelines, taunting opposing teams kids, and trying to fight with their coaches, you might have a moment to assess how POORLY your defense has played since you've been at Georgia.  Hit the road, you friggin pretender

KurtSteiner
KurtSteiner

I wish it wasn't so, but  these guys don't have a chance against Bama.   Luck only takes you so far.

mjhellund
mjhellund

UGA gets taken by the strategic "targeting penalty again.

UGA deserved the win because the UGA QB played the best game any college player has or will play this year.

WHO*IS*ESPN
WHO*IS*ESPN

Georgia DESERVED this loss as MOST DB'S would NOT try to intercept it and just be NORMAL, but with these kids, they have to be cool and show they can intercept the ball . NOT smart , but these people never are.  NO chance they'd see the field again this year

BamaRules
BamaRules

Luck... how long can you depend on good luck..

cfmspe
cfmspe

@Rickapolis Luckiest play we'll see all year.  If it wasn't lucky, why do we keep hearing the word "miracle" used to describe it.   If either one of the two GA defenders had just knocked the ball down like everyone knows you're supposed to (in that circumstance), Auburn loses the game.  

No Auburn didn't "earn" anything there, that was a gift.


Lee3
Lee3

@SECownsCFB Being in the position to win the game as a result of the catch however, had nothing to do with luck and more to do with rushing for over 320 yards.

doghockey
doghockey

@SECownsCFB Gee, ya think?  Great analysis.  The rest of us thought that the play was drawn up to work that way.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

@SECownsCFB It was also a very important win for Auburn. And I think you're underestimating that play. 

jeffcooper71
jeffcooper71

@weir6 Poor tackling is nothing new to UGA. It is one of the reasons they only have 2 national championships when they should have more.  I do not understand blaming Grantham.  Your team made an incredible come back. If Harvey Clemons stayed out of the way of the other DB, UGA wins. Not sure exactly how this is Grantham's fault.  As for their talent on D, I like the improvements to UGA's D under Richt. As someone who has followed UGA since the 70's, Richt era D's are better than anything I saw under Dooley or Goff.  However, UGA 's D is not nearly as deep or talented year in and year out as Bama or LSU. Lastly, were you aware that UGA lost 12 starters on D?  If you were, do you think that your expectations for this season may have been a little unrealistic?

Lee3
Lee3

@KurtSteiner Luck had very little to do with the 9 wins prior to this one. 

jeffcooper71
jeffcooper71

@KurtSteiner Given the way Yeldon and Drake like to cough up the ball this may be closer than Bama would like for it to be.

weir6
weir6

@WHO*IS*ESPN You don't "deserve" to win when you allow 40 points every game.  They were lucky to get back in the game.  Georgia sucks again

ApolloOne
ApolloOne

@BamaRules  

Most championship team get a little luck their way...yours included.

Lee3
Lee3

@cfmspe @Rickapolis For 3 qtrs of play, Auburn kicked Ga's can up and down the field.  Auburn's first three and out came in the 4 qtr.  Georgia had their first 2 on their first offensive possessions of the ball game.  The Georgia team should be given every bit of credit due for never giving up and owning the 4 qtr.  That was impressive.  However, there is not need to take pot shots at Auburn for winning in the end.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

@cfmspe Good teams make their own miracles as well. And I believe Auburn earned every bit of it. 

But I certainly respect your opinion.

Ted3
Ted3

@Rickapolis @SECownsCFB It was a lucky play dude. That was no tip drill in the endzone. The receiver didn't even know where the ball was until it dropped into his hands after the defenders tried to intercept it instead of knocking it down like they should have done. Him not knowing where the ball was is why he was even past the defenders ... not because he watched it the entire way. Yeah ... He didn't even look up until after it was bobbled by the defenders and falling towards him. Had the ball been tipped in any other direction, it wouldn't have been a catch. It wasn't even a good pass. It was a fluke. Exciting? Yep. Great win for them? Sure, but I wouldn't be proud of it. I'd be relieved with the escape, and I'd be very nervous for what's coming up.

ApolloOne
ApolloOne

@jeffcooper71
 "Not sure exactly how this is Grantham's fault."

Here's how. It's 4th and 18 with the game on the line. Grantham knows the game situation so it's his job to tell those DBs as loud as he can to knock the ball down and not try to make the interception, because a pick doesn't help at all.

The replay clearly shows they were trying to catch the ball. That tells me they weren't coached up.

UncleBenny
UncleBenny

@weir6 @WHO*IS*ESPN You don't "deserve" to win when you allow 40 points every game.

Year after year after year. Brian Van Gorder's teams gave up 30 points ONCE in his four years. Grantham's make it a habit. 

Wired
Wired

@Rickapolis @cfmspe It was obviously luck, because it hit his hand before he located it.  BRILLIANT play to locate it after it pops back up, but if that ball was 2 inches off, it doesn't hit his hand....  So Total luck followed by skill.

KenBigbee
KenBigbee

@Ted3 @Rickapolis @SECownsCFB I am sure they are shaking right now.  Everything to win and if they lose, well they were supposed to lose along with about 5 other games.  That in itself has Alabama worried and will play tighter than Auburn. WDE!

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

@joenps @Ted3 @Rickapolis @SECownsCFB I agree, Joe. It WAS fun (unless you're a Georgia fan, of course). I'll bet almost everyone that saw that play live jumped out of their chair. It was fun, lucky or not.

joenps
joenps

@Ted3 @Rickapolis @SECownsCFB Did you talk with the receiver after the game? You sound like a know-it-all and/or another Bama hick. Lighten up dude and have some fun!

jw9528
jw9528

@Ted3 @Rickapolis @SECownsCFB   If you were a Georgia fan would you be proud of the gift touchdown given to the QB who was clearly down before he crossed the goal line?  The Auburn kid was "lucky" in making the catch but the Georgia QB was skilled?

cfmspe
cfmspe

@ApolloOne @jeffcooper71 yeah, it was a dumb play by BOTH defenders, as neither were trying to just knock the ball down, as they should have been, and as they should have been coached to do.

lucky win for the tigers.