But the Tigers' defense didn't allow a point in the all-important fourth quarter, just after Missouri had scored a touchdown and 2-point conversion to close out the third period and slice Auburn's lead to three points.
"We’re going to face adversity as a defense," defensive back Chris Davis said. "They’re going to make plays. It’s how we react when they make the plays that matters. We came together at the end to make some plays and win this game. That’s all that matters."
The first three quarters were a struggle for Auburn.
On four occasions after the Tigers scored to take control of the game, the defense allowed Missouri to march back down the field and keep things within striking distance.
On one occasion, after Auburn, up 28-20, punted the ball to the Missouri 8-yard line with 1:10 remaining in the first half, Missouri went 92 yards in six plays, culminating with a 55-yard touchdown pass from James Franklin to Dorial Green-Beckham.
"Both offenses played aggressive," said defensive end Dee Ford, who had a key sack of Franklin on third-and-nine in the fourth quarter. "You can’t say there was no type of defense on either side, though. We know we have to make plays at times, and at the end of the day, that’s what we did. We’ve done it all year. … That’s what we pride ourselves on. It’s in our DNA."
To Ford’s point, Auburn has found itself in a handful of late-game shootouts this season. Take its 45-41 victory over Texas A&M, for example, or its 43-38 win over Georgia. Both games were marked by big offensive performances against the Tigers' defense. Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel passed for 454 yards and four touchdowns, while Georgia’s Aaron Murray led a furious fourth-quarter comeback to take a brief 38-37 lead before a miracle at Jordan-Hare gave Auburn a 43-38 victory.
Both games ended with the high-profile quarterbacks being taken to the ground by an Auburn defender.
On Saturday at the Georgia Dome, a similar narrative emerged.
Ford’s late sack forced a punt and preserved a 52-42 lead for Auburn. Missouri’s last gasp came on fourth down deep within its own territory. Franklin’s pass to Green-Beckham was swatted away by cornerback Chris Davis to seal the win.
Defensive tackle Gabe Wright gave his two cents on the Tigers’ newfound ability to finish, an ability that was lost throughout the 2012 season.
"It all started in January for us," he said. "The coaches came in with the initiative to finish ballgames. They believe in our ability to do that. We believe in them as coaches and we believe in each other. We’ve come a long way since last season."