Introducing the Auburn AUghts, the WBE series looking back at the decade that was in Auburn Tiger football. We’re starting today with the top 15 plays of the last 10 years and will continue over the next 2-3 weeks with lists of various sizes and a couple of columns dedicated to the Auburn teams, players, games, coaches, and more that made the AUghts one of Auburn’s strongest decades in its 100-plus years of football. Enjoy.
Selecting a list of “top plays” is tougher than you might think. What’s the criteria? Do you go with the most athletically dazzling? The most historically important? The most purely memorable? The ones that showcased Auburn’s brightest stars at their best?
In the end, I tried to include all of those kinds of considerations–but also, finally, just went with what plays felt the biggest, the ones that defined Auburn’s decade. I’m expecting you to disagree and in many cases I’m expecting you’ll be right; feel free to add your submissions/arguments/insults in the comments.
1. Campbell to Taylor, 4th-and-12, vs. LSU 2004
It’s my contention that every team that goes undefeated–certainly so in the SEC–has one play they can look back at, one play to point to, where nothing that happens afterward happens without it. For Auburn 2004, nothing–not the touchdown that followed it, not the undefeated season, not the SEC title, not the Sugar Bowl championship, nothing–happens unless Jason Campbell maneuvers just enough in the pocket to find Courtney Taylor for 13 yards on 4th-and-12 on the decisive drive against LSU.
It’s a pretty remarkable play, given how much pressure Campbell was under and how precise Taylor’s route-running was. But it’s the remarkable-ness that this play made possible are that drives me to put it at No. 1.
2. Cox to Aromashodu, vs. Georgia 2005
People said a lot of things about Brandon Cox during his three years at the helm of Auburn’s offense. But “chokes in the clutch” was never one of them, and this pass to Devin Aromashodu–last drive of the game, 4th-and-10, between the hedges–was Cox at his absolute most clutch.
Auburn’s had some big fourth quarter plays and won some big games since then, but a big offensive play this late to win a game this big? Hasn’t happened.
3. Byrum beats Gators in the Swamp (twice), vs. Florida 2007
It was just three seasons ago, but I think after Auburn’s strong finish the 2007 season and 2008’s misery, we forget how gawdawful the start to 2007 was. The Tigers had been lucky just to take South Florida to overtime, they’d lost to Miss. St. at home, Cox had been benched, New Mexico Freaking State had held a first-half lead–the lowest single point in the Tuberville tenure to-date, easily–before Auburn had recovered in that game and gone off to the Swamp as 17-point underdogs.
All of that got washed away in the course of three hours as Tubby pulled off his last masterpiece, thanks in huge part to the unflappability of Foot Lauderdale:
To kick a game-winning last-second field goal at Florida Field once shows some serious stones. To do it twice … I mean, we’re talking grapefruit-sized, folks.
4. Cadillac Goes Crazy, vs. Alabama 2003
Auburn was better in 2003 than you remember–the five losses included road dates at both SEC divisional champs, a meeting against one of two eventual national champions, and Ben Obomanu’s drop, while the wins included ranked Tennessee and Arkansas and a comfy bowl W over Wisconsin–but we all know it didn’t feel like it at the time, did it? There haven’t been too any other Iron Bowls where Auburn needed a victory worse than they did that night … and the nice thing was that after the very first play from scrimmage, it never felt like that victory was in doubt:
Not sure if Bramlett’s ever going to top it.
5. Damon Duval takes down No. 1, vs. Florida 2001
I still don’t know how the hell he knew it was good.
Remember: that kick came in some serious wind-and-rain conditions. Tubby reminisces about it here.
6. Tre Smith becomes TRE SMITH: vs. Alabama, 2002, vs. Florida, 2006
Cheating a little bit to get two plays in one spot on the list? Maybe, but when one guy makes two pivotal, historic plays four years apart with not a whole lot in-between, I think it makes sense. The first came on Auburn’ second drive of the 2002 Iron Bowl, a 51-yard What the hell?!?! play that announced–clear as a bell–that Auburn could give a crap about not having Ronnie or Cadillac; they were there to win the damn game. It’s still the most memorable play of the biggest win of 2002 … and there in 2006, here’s Smith again, somersaulting into the end zone after a killer punt block that spurred Auburn to their biggest win of 2006.
The best part of that second play? Well, besides the whole “beating Florida” thing? TheAuburner immortalizing it like so.
7. Carter takes it the distance, vs. LSU 2000
Auburn might have had more productive receivers, bigger receivers, more consistent receivers than Tim Carter … but I don’t know if we’ve ever had one who was any faster:
That play broke open what had been a tight game and produced a comfortable 34-17 Auburn win, setting the Tigers up for their run the 2000 SEC West title.
8. Quentin Groves seals it, vs. Kansas St. 2007.
Speaking of fast, it’s not often I’ve felt as sorry for an opposing player as I felt for Kansas State left tackle Alesana Alesana, who had the unenviable task of trying to contain a fully healthy ears-pinned-back Quentin Groves at the end of Auburn’s season-opener vs. the Wildcats in ’07. It did not end well for Alesana, as you’ll no doubt recall.
9. Dansby-to-Thomas for the pick, vs. North Carolina, 2001 Peach Bowl
The first and–I’ll go ahead and provide a spoiler here–only play on this list from an Auburn defeat, Karlos Dansby’s ridiculous hook-and-ladder co-interception with Dontarrious Thomas ended up not doing much to change the outcome of the game (a 16-10 Tar Heel win) or the foul taste of the end of Auburn’s season. But no play from Auburn’s last 10 years has been more supremely athletic or so immediately SportsCenter worthy.
10. Campbell hits Taylor for the TD, vs. LSU 2004
Because this play never could have happened without the first play on this list, I tend to think the first one is the bigger, better play of the two. But of course, by the same coin, that first one has long since been forgotten if Campbell and Taylor don’t hook up for the game-winning touchdown just a few seconds later.
It feels a little on the wrong side including two plays from the same game in the top 10, much less in the same drive … but we are talking about the biggest drive in the biggest game of the biggest season of Auburn’s decade, right? So yeah, I think it’s justified.
11. Kodi wins it in OT, vs. Clemson, 2007 Chick-Fil-A Bowl
I hadn’t expected to care about the outcome of Auburn’s bowl appearance in ’07; with Saban’s bunch seen off, I just wanted to see some life from Tony Franklin’s new offense and get some optimism going into ’08. Then the game started, and everything seemed to click, but Brandon had his last, final Evil Brandon moment, but Auburn was still right there, and by the game went into overtime it felt every bit as much a matter of life and death as any other Auburn game. Meaning that Kodi Burns’s winding game-winning TD run was, yes, that thrilling and that big a deal … even if the Franklin-based promises it helped spawn ended up as empty as the cold, black void of outer space.
12. Cadillac throws for the TD, vs. Georgia, 2004
If the LSU victory was the 2004 juggernaut’s most important win, the strangling of the Dawgs was its trademark victory, and for my money the most pivotal, surprising, exciting, best play of that game was Cadillac pulling up and firing a pinpoint pass to an open Anthony Mix to put Auburn up two TDs. They never even came close to looking back after that.
13. Vols get flattened: Ronnie Brown vs. Tennessee, 2004, Ben Tate vs. Tennessee, 2009
It was one of the most delightful trends of the decade: Auburn running backs running slap over Tennessee defenders. And even if you tell me that two plays doesn’t make a trend, well, two plays this good damn sure do in my book.
For the Tate vs. Berry clock-cleaning, click here.
14. Eric Brock turns away the Tigers, vs. LSU, 2006
Correct call or not (you know where I stand), if Eric Brock doesn’t come over and deflect Jamarcus Russell’s pass, LSU keeps the ball and very likely sneaks out with a win. In a game packed to the absolute gills with standout defensive plays on both sides, this was the play that stood out the most.
15. Auburn stops Jasper Sanks, vs. Georgia, 2001
And finally, we come to a play I can’t find a clip for. Auburn’s 24-17 victory over Georgia in Mark Richt’s first season is memorable primarily for Cadillac’s herculean 41-carry, 167-yard effort, but the game’s critical play was its final one. The Dawgs were on the Auburn 1 with precious few seconds remaining and no timeouts when Richt called for a run with powerback Jasper Sanks. Spencer Johnson and a host of Auburn defenders stacked up Sanks at the line, time ran out, and that was that. If Richt’s brainfart in calling for a run is probably what most non-Auburn oberservers remember first about the play, what shouldn’t be forgotten by Tiger fans is that this was the Auburn defense’s biggest goalline play of the decade.
Rudi Johnson’s 70-yard touchdown run vs Wyoming in 2000; Kenny Irons’ breaking free against LSU in 2005; Walt McFadden‘s tightrope pick-six vs. Ole Miss in 2009; Quentin Groves‘ twin sack-and-strips to set up Auburn TDs vs. Alabama in 2006; Jerraud Powers‘ end-zone interception vs. Alabama in 2007; Damon Duval‘s game-winning field goal vs. Miss. St., a week before the Florida game in 2001.
ADDITIONAL HONORABLE MENTION AS SUBMITTED BY YOU, THE READERS
— Brad Lester powering for 12 rugged, leg-churning, holy crap he’s still going! yards to seal the 2007 Iron Bowl
— In another 1-2 punch of plays, there’s Jason Campbell hitting Devin Aromashodu for 53 yards to give Auburn the lead for good in the 2004 SEC title game, then finding Ben Obomanu for 43 yards in the fourth to clinch it. Just in case you’ve forgotten (I feel like I kind of had): Campbell went 27-of-35 for 374 yards in that game with 57 yards rushing for good measure, for a total of–get this–431 total yards. Whoa.
— Bret Eddins just burying Jamarcus Russell in that 2004 LSU meeting, the game that keeps on giving on this list.
— Tray Blackmon forcing Chris Leak’s fumble–hell yes it was a fumble, there’s no damn Tuck Rule in college football–inside the Auburn 10 to help keep the blocked-punt tide turning vs. Florida in 2006.
— Lastly, just a note to those of you wondering where “The Hit” from 2004 is: it’s been left off on purpose. It’s the most memorable, maybe even “defining” play from that indestructible 2004 D, but I can’t bring myself to celebrate any play that leaves a player lying motionless on the field for 10 minutes. Sorry.