PASADENA, Calif. --- Auburn got to the final Bowl Championship Series title game by playing itself within miracles of greatness then making the miracles.
The Tigers lost the last BCS final by stumbling its way into needing one more miracle then falling one miracle short of a national championship.
This time, it was Heisman Trophy quarterback Jameis Winston driving top-ranked Florida State to the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds to play in a 34-31 victory over No. 2 Auburn in the Rose Bowl on Monday
So ended one of college football’s most amazing turnarounds, as Auburn finished 12-2 with an SEC championship a year after going 3-9 firing its coach.
When Auburn fans agonize over the ending that could have been for a season marked by Ricardo Louis’ catch of Nick Marshall’s tipped Hail Mary pass against Georgia, they’ll remember Marshall’s underthrow and a wide-open Louis’ drop deep over the middle on the Tigers’ first possession Monday.
They’ll agonize on how a season marked by Chris Davis’ 109-yard return of a missed field goal to beat Alabama turned bad when Auburn whiffed on Kermit Whitfield’s 101-yard kickoff return.
They might see the irony in how an Auburn team that benefitted from three missed field goals and a blocked field goal against Alabama saw normally reliable kicker Cody Parkey miss wide right from 33 yards in the second quarter against Florida State. It all ended on a multi-lateral play, with running back and Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason being tackled 63 yards short of the needed miracle.
Team Destiny finally succumbed to Team Dominance, which survived by far its closest game of the season, but Auburn did plenty to lose control of its destiny after building a 21-3 lead in the first half.
The final 60 minutes of a season defined by miracles that took as little one second came down to an offense that strayed from its strength, special-teams breakdowns and an overtaxed defense that finally ran out of stops against Winston.
Auburn’s special teams had one of their worst games of the season with Parkey’s miss and Auburn’s miss on a kickoff return. The Tigers didn’t touch Whitfield as he cut left then down Auburn’s sideline and gave Florida State a 27-24 lead with 4:42 to play. And that doesn’t cover the three kicks Auburn muffed but managed to recover.
Auburn’s defense played one of its best games of the season, holding Winston and Florida State’s offense to 27 points. The Seminoles went 2-for-12 on third down and had five possessions of three or fewer plays.
In the end, Auburn’s defense couldn’t come up with one more stop. Davis and Ryan Smith let Rashad Greene split them and run 49 yards to set up Winston’s game-winning pass to Kelvin Benjamin, which came after Davis was flagged for interference in the end zone.
Florida State finished 4-for-4 in the red zone against one of the nation’s best red-zone defenses.
But the biggest mystery is what happened to the nation’s best running team. An Auburn team that ran for 296 yards against Alabama in the Iron Bowl and 545 against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game managed just 232 against Florida State. It wasn’t just Florida State forcing the issue. An Auburn team that has stayed the course with its running game all season got talked out of it a few times.
On one such occasion, the Tigers had second down and eight from Florida State’s 36-yard line in the second quarter. They tried a deep pass down the sideline when an average run gain would have put them on schedule, in terms of down and distance. The pass fell incomplete, and Auburn wound up punting.
Marshall threw 27 passes in this game. He completed 14 for 217 yard and two scores, but that’s not how Auburn wins.
It was just one of many factors that left Auburn needing one miracle too many.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.