Missouri's defense has a way of getting into opposing backfields.
Auburn's quarterback and tailbacks have a way of getting out of theirs.
Topping the strength-versus-strength matchups in Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game is Auburn's rushing attack against Missouri's opportunistic defense. Auburn leads the SEC with 318.2 rushing yards a game and 6.3 yards a carry, but Missouri leads the league with 95 tackles for loss and a plus-15 turnover margin.
"We will find a way to move the ball and to get out on the edge and run our zone reads and things like that," Auburn tailback Corey Grant said Monday. "We got better each week throughout the season, and we will find a way."
Grant's confidence is understandable, since the Tigers rushed for 619 yards in their memorable triumphs over Georgia and Alabama.
A 5-foot-11, 201-pound junior, Grant is hoping to neutralize Missouri's defensive end collection of Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Markus Golden and Shane Ray. Grant is used as an outside speed threat and has been effective all season, rushing 60 times for 585 yards and an eye-popping 9.8 yards a carry.
Auburn junior quarterback Nick Marshall is effective on outside runs as well and showed a wrinkle late in last week's upset of Alabama, when he headed left before pulling up and passing to Sammie Coates behind the Crimson Tide secondary for a 39-yard touchdown. Marshall rushed for 99 yards against Alabama and has 922 yards this season.
"Obviously they're a great running football team with a great, great quarterback and a great scheme that causes every defense nightmares," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "We've got athletes at the defensive end position. They can run. They're physical, and we've gotten great production out of all of them.
"It's going to be about discipline, and it's going to be physical, assignment football. Hopefully we can get our scheme down and give our best efforts."
Auburn's leading rusher is junior tailback Tre Mason, who punished Alabama for 164 yards and has 1,317 yards this season.
Sam leads the SEC with 18 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks, while Golden has 13 tackles for loss, Ealy 9.5 and Ray nine. It was Ray who sacked Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Sam who returned Murray's fumble 21 yards for a touchdown in one of Missouri's biggest plays this season.
"Their defensive ends are excellent, no doubt," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "That will be a big key, trying to control those guys and trying to keep them off balance."
Alabama was allowing 91.3 rushing yards a game before surrendering 296 at Auburn. The Crimson Tide still lead the SEC in that category at 108.3, with Missouri next at 119.1.
Auburn has rushed for 2,608 yards in its last seven games, which is a higher total than 103 Bowl Subdivision teams this season.
"We're really good at what we do offensively," Auburn fullback Jay Prosch said. "Obviously some teams have stopped us at some areas of our running game, but no matter who we play, we're going to find a way to move the ball. Missouri has a very good defensive line and a very good defense, but we're going to find a way to move the ball, no matter how we have to do it."
SEC title notes
Auburn will be designated the home team Saturday and will wear blue jerseys. ... Missouri won the only previous meeting between the two teams, 34-17 in the 1973 Sun Bowl. ... Marshall was named Monday as SEC offensive player of the week for a third time this season, while teammate Chris Davis was the special teams player of the week for a second time.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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