ATLANTA (AP) — Missouri proved it's SEC worthy in only its second year in the league.
The Tigers just weren't ready for Auburn's up-tempo running game, and that was a devastating realization with the Southeastern Conference championship on the line.
James Franklin passed for 303 yards and three touchdowns and No. 5 Missouri kept pace with No. 3 Auburn through three quarters before falling 59-42 in a wild SEC title game on Saturday.
The quarterback also ran for a touchdown but Missouri couldn't match the relentless Auburn offense led by Tre Mason's 304 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
Coach Gary Pinkel said Missouri struggled to contain quarterback Nick Marshall's option reads and leadership in Auburn's fast-paced, no-huddle attack.
"I think what happens is they try to really get going fast, get the fastball rolling, and your defense gets a little frustrated because you're giving up 10 yards, nine yards," Pinkel said. "And then guess what? You start making mistakes. You don't get the gaps. You don't get to do things you need to do. That's just not a very good situation to be in."
Asked what it takes to stop Auburn, Pinkel said "Everybody has problems with it. You know what, I'm the wrong person to ask because I'd have stopped it if I could have."
Missouri trailed only 45-42 entering the fourth quarter.
The Tigers (11-2) made a big improvement from a 5-7 finish in 2012. Missouri satisfied to just win the SEC East.
"They're a great offense and we're a great offense and they put everything together and we came up a little short," said running back Henry Josey, who rushed for 123 yards, including a 65-yarder, on only nine carries.
Missouri is expected to land in a New Year's Day bowl. The Capital One, Cotton and Outback games are possible destinations. But the promise of a high-profile bowl didn't lift the somber postgame mood of the Missouri players.
"They're crushed," said Pinkel of his players. "I mean, they are absolutely crushed. And that's good. I mean, that's OK. They're used to winning, and this game was real important to them. Hopefully, we get in the position again, and we'll play better. Maybe we'll handle it a little bit better."
The pace of the game was a surprise, especially for a Missouri defense that ranked second in the SEC with its average of 19.4 points allowed. Auburn set SEC championship game records with 677 total yards and 545 yards rushing.