By Paul Newberry
ATLANTA: If offense was the only requirement, Auburn would be a shoe-in for the BCS championship.
Tre Mason rushed for 304 yards and four touchdowns, leading No. 3 Auburn to a wild 59-42 victory over No. 5 Missouri in a Southeastern Conference title showdown Saturday that looked more like a video game.
Auburn (12-1) kept alive its hopes of playing for the national championship, though the Tigers would likely need either top-ranked Florida State or No. 2 Ohio State to lose in their respective conference title games, which began about the time Auburn was wrapping up the offensive shootout at the Georgia Dome.
“We deserve it,” receiver Sammie Coates said. “We won the SEC championship. What else do you want us to do?”
Coates and his teammates headed off to watch the games that could decide their fate. If Auburn misses out on the BCS title game, it will head to the Sugar Bowl as the SEC champion. Missouri (11-2) should be in the mix for a New Year’s Day bowl, with the Capital One, Cotton and Outback games among the possible destinations.
Auburn set an SEC championship game record with 677 yards, including 545 on the ground. Mason had scoring runs of 7, 3 and 1 yards before bursting up the middle on a 13-yard touchdown that clinched the victory with 4:22 remaining. He carried the ball a staggering 46 times, an easy choice as the game’s MVP. He even struck a Heisman pose, his long-shot candidacy getting a huge boost.
“You’re looking at one of the top running backs in college football,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “He was a warrior today. Unbelievable.”
In a game where neither team played a lick of defense, Auburn finally stopped Missouri on fourth-and-1 deep in its own territory, setting up Mason’s final score. Chris Davis broke up the pass, not quite as thrilling as his 109-yard return of a missed field goal to beat Alabama, but another huge play for the nation’s biggest turnaround team.
Auburn, which was 3-9 a year ago and didn’t win a game in the SEC, claimed the title in its first year under Malzahn. The Tigers didn’t even need a dramatic finish to do it, holding Missouri scoreless in the final quarter while Mason notched two more touchdowns to break open a game that was close most of the way.
Missouri had its own impressive bounce-back after struggling its first year in the SEC. But coach Gary Pinkel’s team was denied a quick championship in its new league after leaving the Big 12, unable to slow — much less top — Auburn’s dynamic offense.
“There’s a real frustration that comes over you on defense when they’re coming after you over and over and over again,” Pinkel said. “We had trouble stopping it, obviously, and couldn’t get it fixed.”
James Franklin passed for 303 yards and three touchdowns, while Dorial Green-Beckham hauled in six passes for 144 yards and a couple of scores. Missouri piled up 534 yards — the teams combined for 1,211 yards in a conference supposedly known for defense — but it wasn’t nearly enough against Auburn’s hurry-up spread offense.
Coming into the game, Missouri was one of the top teams in the nation against the run and ranked second in the SEC behind Alabama. The most yards they had given up on the ground was 184 the previous week in a victory over 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.