It’s a tale we’ve seen before, a tightly contested match between Auburn, who had to run the table to get in, and Ohio State who conquered the Big Ten and wear the Big Ten Crown proudly. That was last season, and not much has changed other than Auburn being the two seed in the SEC this time around. The question is, will the outcome be different? Auburn won the Rose Bowl the last go around in a thrilling contest, and the Buckeyes want revenge.
The Tigers controlled Oregon out of the gate last week and despite a late push from the Ducks, Auburn had things well in hand. Signal-caller Griffin Jelkic torched the Oregon secondary for 388 yards with four total touchdowns, three of which came via the air. To really top it off, halfback Robert Davis put things to rest with 106 yards on the ground and two more touchdowns himself. It was one of the better performances we’ve seen from the Auburn offense, outside of their rare third downs. They only converted one of seven, and will need to do better than that tonight. But the good news, receiver Bubba Davis and especially tight end Michael McKenzie went off and put things over the top for this Auburn offense. They generated big plays, and receiver Cross Ferry III is more than capable. The pressure will really be on Jelkic, though, as he faces a dominant Buckeye secondary.
This Auburn defense was something else last week. Sure, they gave up a bunch of points late, but linebacker Mark Calloway and safety Digger Graves combined for 29 tackles, three for a loss, and a sack. If that’s not impressive, try this one on. Defensive end Conrad Wallace and defensive tackle Skippy Mitchell combined for eight tackles, six for a loss, and five sacks last week. Four different players stood out, and were complemented well. But they’re in for a tough task, stopping a powerful running attack. They’ll need to approach Frost Carlson the same way they approached Joe Pantoja when the Tigers played Alabama, or things could get rough.
The reigning Big Ten Champions arrive in Pasadena, and they’re bringing the cold Ohio weather with them, because tailback Frost Carlson is leading the charge. The league’s predominant leading rusher, and Offensive Player of the Year candidate has been running rampant through opposing defenses for weeks, and looks to continue that against Auburn. Carlson’s success opens up the door for this offense, with quarterback Xavier Garcia-Allen able to run and pass off plays designed to fool the defense into pursuing Carlson. This allows guys like tight end Marcus Buford and receiver Lawrence Lexington to come up with big plays down field as they often do. Problem is, this Auburn defense knows how to cause problems, and they’re exceptionally talented themselves.
The Ohio State secondary is no joke. Safety Kevin Brackett and corners Tom Pence and Juan Cantu are exceptional and they know how to limit the big plays downfield. Linebackers Martavis Marriott and Rob Money have played well, however Marriott has not been the dominant force many expected him to be, and Money’s play has not put him into elite company as of yet. Tonight, this defense has its work cut out for them against an offense that knows how to avoid third downs fairly well, at least as shown last week in the Music City Bowl.
Auburn FS Ollie P. Peters
While Calloway and Graves stole the show in the first round of the playoffs, let’s not forget Auburn’s dreadlock-ed enforcer at safety. Peters has a propensity for making big plays, and while he’s had a quiet season, this is one of those games where Peters has to stand tall and play big. Forcing turnovers and imposing his will on the offense will go a long ways, especially if he can take down Carlson at the point of attack. Peters will be counted on in all facets tonight.
They say the sequel is never as good as the original, but with all the changes these teams have made, I honestly believe it will be better. The first semifinal meeting finished 34-30 with Ohio State stopped at the one inch line to end the game. Tonight’s going to be a fantastic, close, physical football game. Auburn looked good in the Music City Bowl, but Ohio State is out for revenge, and want to repeat what they did to Auburn during the regular season. I’m not sure the Tigers have an answer for Carlson. Give me the Buckeyes, in overtime, by three.