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Auburn exhales after 'Prayer' to prep for Iron Bowl

The SportsXchange

AUBURN, Ala. --- It's been a little under a week since the "Prayer in Jordan-Hare," and most of Auburn, Ala., still hasn't exhaled.

A bye week before the Iron Bowl, however, will give Tiger Nation a chance to catch its collective breath.

Quarterback Nick Marshall's hay-maker of a 4th-down, 73-yard pass with 25 seconds to play to receiver Ricardo Louis -- who was triple-covered by Georgia defensive backs -- should've fallen incomplete and made the Nov. 30 Auburn-Alabama showdown nothing more than a chance for the Tigers to spoil the rival Tide's shot at repeating as BCS national champs.

But when Georgia's secondary failed to follow the cardinal rule of defending a Hail Mary -- knock it down -- the pass ricocheted off the Bulldogs' Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons and practically fell into the hands of a streaking Louis, giving Auburn a stunning and remarkable 43-38 come-from-behind win.

"The only thing that was going through my mind was, 'Try to make a play.' At first I was going to try and jump for it, but they took the angle, so I just kept my eyes on the ball over my shoulder and watched the ball all the way in," Louis said. "It was unbelievable. I thought I was going to drop it for real. Coach (Dameyune) Craig always tells us to always look the ball all the way in.

"Coach Craig is the reason I caught that ball. He says stay focused on the ball all the time and I did."

Louis' catch allowed the No. 6 Tigers (10-1 overall, 6-1 in the SEC) to stay on pace for a spot in the SEC Championship game and an outside shot at playing for the BCS crown. But first up will be the team Auburn wants to smash more than any other: the unbeaten Crimson Tide (10-0, 7-0). And while last year's Iron Bowl was a 49-0 Alabama rout, to the victor goes the spoils this time around.

The winner will claim the SEC West title, secure a spot in the conference title game and stay on the BCS title path -- not to mention state bragging rights for the next 365 days, which is almost as important as anything else. If Auburn can win its next two games, that will be its path to sneak into the BCS National Championship game and shatter college football's record books by accomplishing the greatest single-season turnaround ever for a Division I program.

"We've got our hands full with this next one," said first-year Auburn coach Gus Mazahn, who took over a 3-9 Tigers program and has already accomplished the best turnaround in SEC history, going from no conference wins a season ago to six in 2013. "(We're going to) enjoy this one (during the bye week) and then flip the switch."

If Auburn can find a way to dethrone the reigning national champion Tide, the Tigers will tie Hawaii for the biggest NCAA comeback from a season of despair only a year earlier. The Warriors (0-12 in 1999 to 9-4 in 2000) saw an 8 1/2-game difference that year, while Auburn's win against Georgia improved the Tigers by 7 1/2 games from a season ago.

Win two more, and the record -- and a whole lot more -- will be theirs.

Not that Malzahn, or many at Auburn, cares about that sort of thing. They're still trying to let what happened last weekend sink in.

And it's a good thing they have an extra week to do it.

"I still don't know what happened. God just blessed us," Auburn running back Tre Mason said after the game, still shaking his head in disbelief. "(Now), we're looking forward to the next game."

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