<
>

Auburn recapturing the magic from 2013

OXFORD, Miss. -- As Laquon Treadwell knifed his way to the end zone for what looked to be the go-ahead score Saturday, Auburn saw its chances of repeating as SEC champs and returning to the national championship fading away.

There was still a minute and a half left and Nick Marshall has grown all too familiar with fourth-quarter comebacks, but this wasn't last season. That magic was gone.

Or was it?

On a play that felt all too similar to the Prayer at Jordan-Hare or the kick-six, Treadwell fumbled the ball right before he crossed the goal line. Instead of Ole Miss taking the lead, Auburn had the ball on its own 20 with a chance to put the game away, 35-31.

"Last year I felt like every game was that close," Auburn linebacker Kris Frost said. "But being able to be a part of that and being able to make that play is a real blessing for me."

Frost, who made the tackle that caused the fumble Saturday, said the play felt more like last season's Texas A&M game when both he and Dee Ford brought down Johnny Manziel on the final drive to preserve the 45-41 victory over the Aggies.

"Yeah, it feels pretty similar [to Texas A&M]," Frost said after Saturday's game. "It was such a great stage on the road. I love games on the road, the whole atmosphere and getting to go to a different place. Coming up with a big stop like that, two big plays on their drives going into the end zone, was really key for me personally and key for us."

The season as a whole is beginning to feel a lot like 2013. Auburn began the season undefeated in the month of September. The Tigers opened SEC play with a win but came up short in their first conference game. Last season, it was LSU. This year it was down in Starkville, Mississippi, against then No. 3 Mississippi State.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

The kicker was Saturday, though. Unlike last season, Auburn hadn't needed a lot of magic in its 2014 wins. Sure, the Tigers escaped with a win at Kansas State early on, and they needed a late defensive stop to hold off South Carolina. But it didn't have that same feel.

The Ole Miss game had that feel. Marshall was playing great. The offense was racking up yards on the ground against one of the better defenses in college football. But the defense simply couldn't stop the Rebels in the second half. Then, when Auburn needed it the most, the defense forced two red zone fumbles -- one as crazy a play as you'll see.

"It does [feel like last year]," Marshall said. "Just like coach says, we're going to find a way to win in the fourth quarter. Our defense stepped up big for us in the fourth quarter, gave us a stop, and we were able to win the game.

"We put our trust in our coaches; they put their trust in us; and that's just something that we believe in -- at the end of the game, we'll find a way to win."

After the game, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn admitted his team had found some bizarre ways to win games over the past two seasons, and Saturday was no different.

"Our guys found ways last year to win when it's close," Malzahn said. "[They] truly believe that they're going to win the game if it's close. They made plays. They made the plays down there to win the game defensively."

At this time last season, the Tigers were 8-1 and ranked No. 7 in the AP poll. With Georgia and Alabama still left on the schedule, nobody saw them winning the SEC, more or less playing in the BCS title game, but we all know how that story ended.

Auburn sits at 7-1 this year, ranked No. 3 in the AP poll, and trips to Georgia and Alabama are looming. It has a 15 percent chance of winning the SEC West, third-best behind Mississippi State and Alabama, according to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI).

But don't count out these Tigers. Not after last season.