ATLANTA — Behind Auburn’s bench sits an orange-colored, Auburn-logoed porta potty.
Saturday, it would have been more appropriate if it were a phone booth.
Auburn was that good offensively, superhuman good, in its 59-42 Southeastern Conference Championship Game romp. The Tigers rolled through Missouri’s defense, a defense that came in No. 2 in the SEC allowing just 119.1 yards per game rushing, like it was, well, a paper tiger.
Auburn amassed 677 total yards (nearly 8 yards per play) and 545 yards rushing (nearly 7.4 yards per play).
General Patton’s tanks stopped rolling through French hedgerow country after D-Day only because they ran out of gas. Auburn only stopped rolling through the Missouri countryside because it ran out of time — though there was a late, unconfirmed rumor that SEC MVP Tre Mason was spotted running wild somewhere in the St. Louis suburbs, the natives there offering only token resistance.
After the deluge, some smarty-pants reporter asked Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel how you stop Auburn’s ground game. The typically stony Pinkel found humor in the question.
“You know what? I’m the wrong person to ask,” Pinkel said with a weary chuckle. “Because I’d have stopped it if I could have.”
There had to be times during the longest day of his career that Pinkel had to be thinking along the lines of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when a relentless posse was chasing them across the west:
Butch (or Gary): “Don’t they get tired? Don’t they get hungry?”
Sundance (or Mizzou defensive coordinator Dave Steckel): “They gotta be.”
Butch/Gary: “Why don’t they slow up? Hell, they could even go faster. At least that’d be a change. They don’t even break formation.”
“Who are those guys?”
Who is Auburn, indeed? Not the team that went 3-9 and 0-for-flipping-8 in the SEC last season, that’s for sure, making the Tigers the first team in SEC history ever to go from worst to first in back-to-back seasons.
It’s not even recognizable as the team that suffered its only loss way back on Sept. 21 at LSU 35-21, a game in which LSU led 21-0 at halftime.
In an ominous image of things to come, Auburn ran through LSU’s less-intense but nonetheless gassed defense in the second half, outscoring the purple-and-gold Tigers 21-14 and outrushing them 140-74 over the final two quarters.
Missouri would have gleefully pocketed numbers like that and taken its chances.
As a newcomer to these parts, a refugee from the Big 12 where scores like 59-42 are the norm, we’ll inform Missouri that its 42 points would have been good enough to win all but three of the previous SEC Championship Games. It would have, theoretically, forced overtime with LSU in 2011 when those Tigers beat Georgia 42-10.
That’s small consolation. So is the fact that Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall fumbled three times, one of them resulting in an 11-yard scoop-and-score by cornerback E.J. Gaines that temporarily gave Missouri a 17-14 lead.
Imagine what damage Auburn might have wrought had they not turned the ball over so much.
Now, as has become the modus operandi in SEC country, comes the ultimate question of life, the universe and the BCS: Was Saturday’s game, as has been the case the last seven years, a de facto BCS semifinal?
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, a man who prefers to live in the dry platitudes, finally pushed back his white Auburn visor and pleaded his team’s case.
“Yeah, we’re the SEC champ,” he said, seeming to know the weight those words carry in college football. “I believe we won it (the BCS title) the last seven years (you believe right, Gus). We play the toughest schedule of any of the teams there, and we’re playing our best football.
“A lot of teams aren’t getting better each week. This team is.”
A lot of people don’t want to see Auburn in the BCS Championship Game. Seven years worth of SEC fatigue are the reason for that.
But there’s another big reason. You REALLY don’t want to see Auburn standing on the other sideline in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6.
Malzahn isn’t just blowing smoke. After needing a miracle to beat Georgia with a tipped touchdown pass and a meltdown by Alabama’s special teams to avoid overtime last week with Chris Davis’ 109-yard missed field goal return (Punt, Bama, punt! has been replaced by Kick, Bama, kick!), Auburn is looking scary good.
Maybe the SEC’s reign has come up sevens and come to an end.
But if not, if Auburn squeezes in, it would be hard to bet against the SEC yet again. What already looked like a team of destiny right now looks like it can’t lose.