ATLANTA -- Obviously, Auburn was tired of the drama.
Then again, maybe the Tigers finally decided that living on the edge wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Better yet, maybe there was something else in play Saturday, a deeper meaning to Auburn’s 56-17 destruction of South Carolina in an SEC championship game that was never really in doubt.
That is, unless you count the Gamecocks’ drive right before halftime to seemingly swing momentum to their side.
It’s the play everybody will remember from this game.
But this was Auburn’s game from the outset, the Tigers at their finest and the version of the Tigers they say everybody can expect to see when the stakes get even higher five weeks from now.
That’s right, and don’t think the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game wasn’t on anybody’s mind in and around that Auburn locker room as the Tigers celebrated their first SEC title since 2004.
It’s fair to say there were a few mentions of Oregon.
“If we play like this in the next game, I don’t feel like anybody can stop us,” said Auburn junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who was pretty unstoppable himself Saturday.
For that matter, Auburn’s entire defense was, and for a change, the Tigers didn’t wait until the second half to clamp down.
South Carolina did manage two touchdowns in the first half, but had the ball twice more inside the Auburn 35 and came away empty-handed each time.
“People say our defense is suspect. I’ve been hearing that all year,” Fairley huffed. “All that does is give us motivation to go shut people down.”
With the Tigers reeling off 28 unanswered points during one of their patented runs, all the Gamecocks could muster in the second half was a field goal.
“Coach (Gene) Chizik told us there was no need to be playing from behind this time,” said Adams, who set an SEC championship game record with 217 receiving yards. “This is a game we wanted to hit them from the jump.”
Sure enough, the Tigers (13-0) scored touchdowns on their first three possessions.
Even though the Gamecocks fought back, it was obvious they weren’t going to be able to match the Tigers touchdown for touchdown, especially with the defense playing one its most complete games of the season.
“We came out this game from the ground running,” Fairley said. “That’s the way you’re supposed to play, all four quarters. We wanted to let the world know that our defense is not a joke. That’s what we proved tonight, that our defense is no joke.”
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said it was refreshing just to finally be able to enjoy a fourth quarter.
“You don’t know how much that Alabama game aged all of us,” Malzahn said.
That comeback from 24 points down in Tuscaloosa was the fourth time this season the Tigers had rallied from at least a two-touchdown deficit to win the game.
“We weren’t going to put ourselves in that position again,” Auburn senior linebacker Josh Bynes said. “I’ve been saying that if we play like we do in the third and fourth quarter in the first and second, we can be the most dominant defense and the most unbeatable team in the nation.
“It showed today.”
Consider it a message sent, too.
From afar, Auburn has had its eye on Oregon for some time, and you can bet Oregon has caught a few of the Tigers’ highlights here and there.
The offensive approaches of the two teams are similar. Only when they hit the half-century mark do they even begin to think about shifting back into third gear. Their defenses have been maligned at times, and they like to play at a pace better suited for speed skating.
“They’ve been finishing their opponents off all year, just like us,” Bynes said. “It’s the two best teams in the nation going at it, and we’ll see who’s the best.”
And while nobody was taking for granted what an SEC championship would mean to everybody on the Plains, Bynes used a golf analogy to describe where it goes from here for the Tigers.
That’s despite Bynes admitting, behind one of his familiar smiles, that he doesn’t even play golf.
“This was like a nine-hole golf tournament,” Bynes said. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s nine holes you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and now we’re on the back nine. How are we going to finish the game? How are we going to finish this season?
“That’s what we’ve got to do when we go to Glendale. We finished that front nine. Now, let’s go finish this back nine and be national champions.”