No. 3 Auburn players say journey to SEC title game was more more pluck than luck
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Don't call the Auburn Tigers lucky.
The third-ranked Tigers have navigated a season of close calls and amazing finishes to make it into Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 5 Missouri.
They balk at any notion that this is a lucky team, though.
"I wouldn't say it's luck because we've put in the work and we've definitely done the work to be able to be where we're at," Auburn fullback Jay Prosch said on Monday. "It's not luck, but I do think there are some crazy things that happened."
The craziest have been a deflected Hail Mary to beat Georgia and Chris Davis's 109-yard return of a missed field goal on the final play to upend No. 1 Alabama in back to back games.
Those plays made that touchdown with 10 seconds left to beat Mississippi State and the game-winner with 1:19 remaining against No. 22 Texas A&M, plus some late defensive stands, seem downright mundane.
"Against Georgia, that was just a miracle," Auburn tailback Corey Grant said. "It was a great play. I kind of look at (the Alabama) game, that was more of a coaching standpoint to put Chris back there. Coaches with their job, they should know stuff like that. That was a great deal of coaching from our coaches to put Chris back there in that situation with that happening."
Gus Malzahn's Tigers (11-1) have proven they're awfully good just by being in position to defeat teams like the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide. A win over Missouri (11-1) coupled with a loss by either No. 1 Florida State against No. 20 Duke or No. 2 Ohio State versus No. 10 Michigan State, and Auburn could be playing for a national title.
It wouldn't be the strangest occurrence of Auburn's season.
"It's just amazing that this keeps happening," Prosch said.
Malzahn doesn't think it's happenstance that his first Auburn team is managing to pull out tight games, however it happens.
"I think it is unique and it is rare that you have teams that believe they are going to win no matter how bad it looks," he said. "They still have bright eyes and belief in each other and that is what our guys have found a way to do. We talked all week before last week's game that we have to get it close to the fourth quarter and we will win the game. And they believed it and they found a way to do it."
He delivered a similar message before the Georgia and Texas A&M games, among others.
Malzahn cites his team's resume when asked what he'd say to someone calling Auburn lucky.
"I think any time you win 11 games in this league the best league in college football you have to be a pretty good team," Malzahn said. "Teams that find a way to win, that is rare. Our team has found different ways to win and I am very proud of them."
Missouri receiver LaDamian Washington watched the Georgia game from his living room during his team's bye week.
"Okay, the game is over," Washington recalled thinking. "Harvey-Clemons is going to make the interception. When I see that, I paused for five seconds. I couldn't believe it. It just goes to show the magic that the Auburn team has going for them right now."
Yes, magic. Maybe that's it.
Auburn offensive tackle Avery Young doesn't buy that explanation, either.
"Some people call it luck, magical," Young aid. "I say we're blessed. That's all I have to say about it."
The Alabama game seemed headed for overtime unless the Tide's Adam Griffith made a 57-yard attempt.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel called Davis's return "a strange, strange play."
"I've never seen it happen, and I've been coaching 35 years," Pinkel said.
Missouri has a play called "Chicago" borrowed from the NFL's Bears for any field goal of 55 yards or more.
"Right before they get ready to kick, we back one of our safeties up and put them in that exact same spot," Pinkel said. "We work on that.
"That has never happened to us, but we work on that. That's just a very unusual play."
The most unusual play in an Auburn that's been anything but ordinary.