Thursday, April 19, 2018
Colleges

Another miraculous ending for Auburn?

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.

The end will make you slap your forehead. The end will make you yell at the television set.

The end will come on fourth-and-magic, and the forward pass will carom off the skull of a referee, and it will nestle on the back of a low-flying bird, and it will drop gently into the hands of an Auburn wide receiver, who will be cured of leprosy as he crosses the goal line.

For the sake of legend, the play will be remembered forever as "oh, just another one."

Forever, it seems, Auburn is winning football games like this, games snatched directly from Gus Malzahn's pocket full of miracles. There has never been a team like this, and never a season like this. Time after time, week after week, Auburn was on the brink of losing, and play after play, miracle after miracle, it has somehow won. After a while, you would swear that the coordinators are Penn and Teller.

As defensive end Dee Ford says, "There is nothing wrong with a little magic."

A little?

Let's face it, a lot of champions have a little luck. They win a game they shouldn't. They get a break. They get a little help.

Auburn?

Auburn has been kissed by the angels.

There was the late touchdown against Mississippi State. There was the matter of holding on against Texas A&M. There was the "Prayer at Jordan-Hare" against Georgia. There was the "Hey, Nick, got a second?" game against Alabama. There was Michigan State upsetting Ohio State in the Big Ten title game to get the Tigers here.

All in all, it was wonderful, delicious stuff, like rosary beads wrapped about a football, loaves and fishes as the postgame meal kind of stuff. It was once-in-a-lifetime followed by once-again-in-a-lifetime. It was the kind of football that makes you want to ask Malzahn who his Miracle Coordinator is.

"It's been a crazy season," Auburn defensive back Jermaine Whitehead said. "Like a movie."

Mind you, there is nothing wrong with any of this. But the more people talk about miracles, the closer the suggestions are to luck. And, no, it isn't all luck behind the amazing turnaround season of the Tigers. But, yeah, there is luck involved. A football team ranked 89th in the nation on defense doesn't usually find its way to the national title game.

On the other hand, Malzahn has become the greatest escape artist since Harry Houdini this season. That helps.

Start with the Mississippi State game. That one was big, because Auburn had lost all eight of its conference games the year before, and this was its first chance to say there was something different about this team. Still, Auburn trailed 20-17 with 1:56 to go, and it was on its 12-yard line.

Never mind. Quarterback Nick Marshall hit receiver C.J. Uzomah on an 11-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds to go, and the magic had begun.

A few weeks later, Auburn had sneaked into the Top 25 but was playing at Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel. But running back Tre Mason scored with 1:19 left, Ford sacked Manziel on two out of three plays near the end, and the Tigers somehow held on.

Ah, but those were merely the ordinary, salvage-a-game level of miracles. Lots of teams have those.

But then came Georgia. The Bulldogs made a furious comeback, and they seemed to have the game won when Auburn faced fourth and 18 from its 27 in the final minute. Marshall threw long, and for some reason, the Georgia safety batted the ball up into the air. Ricardo Louis didn't break stride as he hauled in the ball and ran to the end zone.

There would never be another game quite like that. Well, not until the next game, when Alabama argued for another second on the clock, then tried a 57-yard field goal. That was short, and Chris Davis returned the ball from 9 yards deep in the end zone around the large, slow blockers from Alabama and into the other end zone. Since then, Davis has gotten standing ovations for just showing up to class.

Wow. Wow, wow and wow.

And furthermore, wow.

"People say it's luck,"' Uzomah said. "But I guess we're just in the right place at the right time and doing the right things."

Over the history of college football, there have been sensational plays. Hail Flutie. The Play, which helped Cal beat Stanford. The Miracle at Michigan, when Kordell Stewart threw a Hail Mary touchdown against Michigan. The Statue Left, which allowed Boise State to beat Oklahoma.

This was like all of them at the same time, by one team, in one season. The last time a school had this sort of magic going on, it was Hogwarts.

The thing is, no one likes to talk about miracles. For the winner, a miracle suggests luck was involved, and luck can suggest a lack of skill. For the other team, a miracle cannot be defended.

But what's bad about miracles? What's not embraceable about big breaks? And isn't good luck the best kind of luck to have?

"I think the bottom line is our guys have found a way to win at the end of games when the pressure is on," said Malzahn, as dryly as if he were describing 20-yard field goals. "They've found ways to win in different ways.

"When you're in the moment of a big game and something miraculous happens, that's a special feeling. But once you get done and you go back home, you put that behind you."

These days, the Auburn players seem to prefer the "team of destiny" line over the rest of it, because it doesn't suggest as much luck was in play. Still, there seems to be something in play, as if Auburn has an edge when the clock moves inside of a minute.

"I don't believe in destiny," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was saying. And maybe if you're Fisher, you wouldn't either. "I think you control your own destiny by what decisions you make each day. We're going to play our game. Auburn will play their game. We'll see what happens."

What could happen? Maybe someone will run the wrong way with a fumble. Maybe someone will have too many players on the field in a key moment. Maybe someone will catch a tipped pass for the winning score.

Hey, it could happen.

Again.

   
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