AUBURN, Ala. — In order for Auburn to reach the 2014 BCS national championship game the Tigers had to get past Arkansas. First-year head coach Gus Malzahn had played the Razorbacks three times as an assistant on the Plains, but had yet to come out of a game against the Hogs with a win.
The 7-1 Tigers — surging after an emotional win against Johnny Manziel and the Aggies — trekked to Fayetteville to take on another first-year head coach in Bret Bielema.
But Auburn, who had big-play threat Sammie Coates on its side, didn’t have to worry too much. Despite a silly swinging gate dilemma and some back-and-forth between coaches, the Tigers checked off another win, moving one step closer to an unforgettable Iron Bowl and a national title appearance in Pasadena.
Here’s how Coates remembers Auburn’s 35-17 victory (as told to Lauren Shute):
The Arkansas game was always a big rivalry game for us. It’s where Coach Malzahn and Coach (Rhett) Lashlee are from and it meant a lot to them and to us. Even though the coaches didn’t really talk about it much — Coach Malzahn usually keeps everything to himself — it was his first trip back to Fayetteville as a head coach, so we wanted to go in and get a win for him.
At that point in the season we had lost to LSU but we’d gone to College Station and beaten Texas A&M. I think beating the Aggies was our turning point that year. It turned our season to the point where we needed it to be. When we did that we knew we had a shot at something special.
The Arkansas game was another big game because it was an SEC game. The win was going to help us out in the long run so we knew it was important. It was Bret Bielema’s first year and he was a good coach — we knew that. We also knew that they were a good team and it was going to be an exciting game at their place. That was also the first of back-to-back road games (Auburn went to Tennessee the following week) so we really had to be ready for every game.
It was kind of a crazy game, too. They have the hog, that was kind of weird and the atmosphere was memorable. It was really loud in the stadium at first and then we started making plays. Then it really started to quiet down.
In fact, it was one of those games where we had all of our players making plays all around the ball. Tre (Mason) scored four touchdowns and I scored, too.
Our whole offense was really close. Nick (Marshall) and me were close. Nick was one of those guys who looked at you before he threw it, so in the huddle before that game I knew immediately he was going to be throwing to me. He was coming back from a shoulder injury, but his 88-yard pass to me ended up being the third-longest play in Auburn history, so it was really cool to score a touchdown like that in an SEC game.
That ended up being my third-straight 100-yard receiving game (he had three catches for 102 yards), all of which had been on the road. So even before the game started I had confidence and I was doing pretty well and everything kind of fell into place and took care of itself. Making plays like that one on the road gives your team the momentum, that’s what big plays always do, really. It helped the game come a little easier to the guys when we were making plays like that. As long as we were winning, I didn’t really care if I was making the big plays or not.
It was also one of the funnier games I’d been a part of to that point. There was the swinging gate controversy and later we saw film of Anthony Swain falling and it was pretty funny. We all watched it on film and talked about it in the locker room. We gave him a hard time about it.
In the end it was just really good to get the win on the road. It helped us reach our goals that year and brought out team closer that year.