This week the Wishbone returns with another installment of “greatests ever,” this time beginning our look at the best games Auburn has played in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium in the years since 2000.
This column covers numbers 6-10 of the greatest home games from 2001-2011. Next time we will discuss games 1-5. (The greatest games from prior to 2001 can be found here.)
We welcome suggestions of games we’ve overlooked and arguments about the ones we’ve included. Please avail yourself of the Comments section down there at the bottom. We have attempted to rank them in what we feel is the most accurate order of importance, but such measurements are extremely subjective and surely everyone who reads this will prefer a different order to the list.
Honorable Mentions go to several games from the past decade that were memorable for one reason or another, but didn’t quite make the top ten. These include:
Syracuse, 2002. The Tigers at last exacted a measure of revenge on an Orangemen program that had given us nothing but sour grapes after our 1988 Sugar Bowl tie (or CO-WIN, according to the trophy) and then beaten us in the Carrier Dome a couple of weeks after 9/11 the previous season. Though the game was entirely too close, given the poor quality of the 2002 Orangemen team (it went to three overtimes before Cadillac Williams settled it with a short TD run), any victory over Syracuse after a fifteen year wait was pretty sweet.
LSU, 2002. Nick Saban’s team had beaten us in Baton Rouge the year before and had knocked us out of the SEC Championship Game in the process. The 2002 game was expected to be another LSU victory. Certainly nobody saw an epic, 31-7 beatdown coming, but Auburn delivered it, courtesy in part of the running of Ronnie Brown and very strong defensive play.
Alabama, 2003. “Go Crazy, Cadillac!” This game, a 28-23 Auburn win, probably saved Tommy Tuberville’s job for another five years (coming at the end of the disappointing season soon to be better remembered more for “JetGate” than anything else). It featured Carnell Williams carrying the ball the distance on the first play of the game, and a long catch and run by Ben Obomanu later on.
Alabama, 2007. Not a particularly memorable game except that it was the sixth and last win in Auburn’s (and Tuberville’s) epic “Streak” of victories over Alabama. Of note: it was also Nick Saban’s first season as Alabama coach, and after this game, Auburn’s (and Tuberville’s) record against Saban stood at 4-2.
And now, without further ado, we present the Ten Greatest Games Played in Jordan-Hare, 2001-2011, numbers 10-6:
10. South Carolina, 2010.
In hindsight, and especially after the way the rematch in the SEC Championship Game turned out, this game didn’t seem particularly momentous. At the time, however, it was very big—one of the games Van had expected that we would lose, before we knew what kind of a season 2010 was going to turn out to be—and when all was said and done, the positive but very narrow outcome was absolutely critical to everything that followed.
What happened was that Steve Spurrier brought the Gamecocks into Jordan-Hare for the fourth game of the season—a nighttime game on ESPN—never having beaten Auburn since joining the SEC. And, in what would turn out to be the most important match-up between the two teams up to that point in history, Carolina very nearly won.
Auburn had struggled mightily the week before, just squeezing past Clemson in OT when Clemson’s kicker missed a potentially game-tying field goal re-kick. Auburn had even dropped from 16 to 17 in the AP rankings after that contest. During the game, the Auburn offensive line had at first been pushed around, then was challenged at halftime by the coaches, and then came out ready to rock in the second half. Auburn finished that game with momentum, but Carolina looked very good and their freshman sensation running back, Marcus Lattimore, was expected to slice and dice the relatively mediocre Auburn defense. Certainly Lattimore, who had very nearly signed to play with Auburn the year before, would outrush his freshman star counterpart at Auburn, Mike Dyer.
As it turned out, that would not be the case. Dyer gained 100 yards on 23 carries, compared to Lattimore’s anemic 14 for 33.
But as good a game as Dyer had, it scarcely compared to the offensive explosion exhibited that night by one Cameron Newton.
Cam ran for three touchdowns, including his first really famous long-range score, ending it with a Superman-style leap from the vicinity of the five or six yard line into the end zone. He also threw for a pair of TDs. By game’s end, Newton had piled up 334 yards of total offense. The rest of the SEC, and the country, were now watching.
Despite their futility at rushing, the Gamecocks did manage to throw the ball pretty well, with Stephen Garcia throwing eight passes to Alshon Jeffery for 192 yards and two touchdowns. Two costly fumbles by Garcia, however, led to the ever-trigger-happy Spurrier pulling him in favor of Connor Shaw—only to see Shaw toss interceptions on both of his drives. The second INT came in the end zone as Carolina was driving for a potential game-tying score.
While Carolina had led, 20-14, at the half, Auburn’s defense picked it up when it had to—something they’d do all season long—and limited the Gamecocks to only seven points in the second half, along with creating those critical turnovers.
When the clock hit 0:00 and everyone in orange and blue could breathe again, the Tigers had recorded a 35-27 victory, stood undefeated at 4-0, still had never lost to Carolina in conference play, and had sent a warning shot across the bow of the SEC in general. Additionally, Auburn had notched its 700th win in program history, and the country was now giving its full attention to this team and its astonishing quarterback.
9. Alabama, 2005.
The 2005 Iron Bowl was what we refer to, in technical terms, as a weird game.
Auburn led 21-0 before the first quarter was over. The Tiger defense (led by Stanley McClover) sacked Alabama QB Brodie Croyle five times in that quarter alone and held the Tide to minus-17 yards of offense. By the time the game was finished, Croyle would be sacked eleven times, with seven different Tiger defenders recording at least half a sack.
And yet Auburn scored only once more after that torrid first quarter.
Even stranger: None of Auburn’s four scoring drives covered more than 61 yards. (The four drives were for 40, 31, 55, and 61 yards, respectively.)
So, you might be saying, we can assume that Alabama turned the ball over a lot, giving Auburn short fields to work with. Right?
Wrong. Alabama did not fumble and did not throw an interception in the entire game.
Ah, then—one might reasonably conclude that the Auburn punt-return and kick-return teams had an epic night.
Wrong again. Auburn’s kick return yardage was 17 yards, and their punt return yardage was minus-4.
It was just defense. Over and over, defense. Here’s that stat that somewhat answers the issue: Alabama’s Jeremy Schatz punted ten times for an average of 37 yards. When you’re punting from your own goal line after giving up yet more sacks, the other team’s return squad doesn’t have to be great to give the offense good field position. They just have to catch the ball and hold on to it.
Auburn didn’t score again after the 2:07 mark of the second quarter, but that was the Tuberville way: Grab a modest lead, if you can, and cling to it.
Alabama scored in every quarter after the first, but it wasn’t enough to make up for that onslaught by the Tigers at the beginning. Auburn had the 28-18 win and a new catchphrase to boot: Honk if you sacked Brodie!
8. Florida, 2006
The 2006 Auburn Tigers were a team in contention for the National Championship for much of the season, and were ranked third in the country when they took on Arkansas on October 7, the week before the Florida game. Unfortunately, as we have documented extensively before, the Hawg Hex struck with full force. The Arkansas offense, masterminded by future Auburn OC Gus Malzahn, threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Tigers and won, 27-10.
Falling to tenth in the rankings, Auburn wasted little time getting back on track. The Florida Gators—a team Auburn had not played since the infamous overtime loss in Gainesville four years earlier*—were coming to down the very next Saturday, having just moved up into the #3 spot in the coaches’ poll the Tigers had vacated the week before. (They were second in the AP rankings.) GameDay was on hand, and both Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit picked Florida to win.
The loss to Arkansas seemed to have exposed the Tigers as somewhat overrated, perhaps—while Kenny Irons was having a fine season at running back, Brandon Cox’s passing numbers had fallen off, in part due to his top receivers (that magical freshman group of 2002) having departed following the 2005 season, with the exception of the redshirted Courtney Taylor. Indeed, the 2006 Tigers struggled for most of the season to put points on the board, and the Florida game would prove to be only one of numerous examples where it fell to the defense and special teams to either put the offense in an easy position to score, or to actually score the points themselves. In fact, Auburn’s offense failed to record a single touchdown in this game—and yet, much like the Tigers in that wild and wooly 1994 LSU game, the other two components of the team picked up the slack, and Auburn would go on to win by ten.
Despite a lack of offensive fireworks by the home team, the game turned out to be extremely exciting and entertaining. The defense was able to hold Florida scoreless in the second half, after the Gators had led 17-11 at the break. John Vaughn nailed four field goals and the defense notched a safety. Reserve running back Tre Smith (who must have been on his ninth year of eligibility at that point) ran (flipped) back a blocked punt for a score in what would later be named the Pontiac Game-Changing Play of the Year. Finally, Patrick Lee returned a fumble for a Tiger touchdown on the game’s final play, resulting in a 27-17 win.
This game would turn out to be Florida’s only loss of the year and the Gators would go on to claim the National Championship. The Tigers fought their way back into national contention beginning with this win, but a crippling loss to Georgia in November spelled an end to any hopes of a title for this squad. Even so, the Tigers ended the year 11-2, with a gritty win over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl—and the Florida game was the crown jewel in the 2006 campaign.
*As of this writing, that 2002 overtime loss to Ron Zook’s Gators remains Auburn’s only loss to Florida in this current century.
7. Florida, 2001.
There was little reason to suspect, beforehand, that the 2001 Auburn Tigers would stand a chance against mighty Florida when they met in Jordan-Hare on October 13. Unranked Auburn game into the game with a record of four wins and a loss. They had barely eked out victories against the likes of Ole Miss, Miss State, and Vanderbilt (with Damon Duval hitting game-winning kicks against the Dogs and Commodores). The Gators, meanwhile, were undefeated, ranked #1 in the country, and were staggering 21-point favorites.
But this was Auburn-Florida, where things rarely seem to go as scripted.
In a back-and-forth affair, and with the bad weather the meteorologists had predicted always looming on the horizon but not quite arriving, the two teams found themselves locked up at 20-20 in the fourth quarter. Florida had dominated statistically to that point, but Auburn’s defense (using players from deep down the depth chart, due to injury) scrapped and clawed and managed to minimize the Gators’ scoring chances. Florida quarterback Rex Grossman, who had beaten Auburn twice in the previous season (once in Gainesville and again in Atlanta), was picked off on four occasions, while the Gator running game was utterly shut down.
Auburn’s offense, meanwhile, was now being led by quarterback Daniel Cobb, in place of freshman Jason Campbell. Cobb managed the game well and did just enough to keep the Tigers in it.
As the game’s final moments ticked down, Auburn reached Florida’s 27 yard line and sent Damon Duval out to attempt the game-winner. Just as Duval was lining up to kick, the long-expected wind and rain struck, sweeping from left to right across the stadium and the field. Duval lofted a long curveball of a kick, which looked hopelessly off-target to the right at first, but somehow swung back around—into the oncoming weather front!—and passed perfectly between the uprights.
The top-ranked Gators had been humbled and knocked from their perch in Steve Spurrier’s final season. The Ol’ Ball Coach afterward noted that his wins against the Tigers were usually blowouts, while Auburn’s wins over his Gators tended to be last-second field goal affairs. Very true, coach. But a win was a win, and we happily took it.
6. West Virginia, 2009.
The box score for the 2009 Auburn-West Virginia game states the following, rather nonchalantly: “Weather: Light rain.”
Well, sort of.
In actuality, the game was preceded by an absolute deluge—enough to cause kickoff to be pushed back an hour. During the game and for days afterward, ESPN announcers and others would marvel at how well-constructed the drainage system beneath Pat Dye Field was, noting how well it had handled the sudden flood and carried it off the grass surface rapidly and with no damage to the turf. (Here’s why it did.)
They noted one other thing of interest, too: The Auburn fans—and particularly the students—remained in the stands. They sat or stood there beneath a torrent strong enough to make one consider building a large animal-carrying boat and they didn’t flinch and they didn’t run away. They simply stood there and waited. And when the weather cleared a bit and the game was allowed to begin, the players coming back onto the field saw that. They saw it and they acknowledged it.
What followed was the game that would do as much as any to define the Gene Chizik Era at Auburn—the game that, probably more than any other, laid the foundations for the run to the BCS National Championship the following year.
Auburn had faced the Mountaineers in Morgantown the previous season, with running back Noel Devine eventually running the already-disintegrating Tiger team to death. This time around, in Jordan-Hare, things got off to a bad start for the men in blue. Devine punched in a short TD and then broke off a 71-yard run to put WVU up 14-0 with less than five minutes gone in the game. Many Tigers fans surely couldn’t help but think, “Here we go again.”
But this time the Tigers hung around. A long Wes Byrum field goal and a short pass from Chris Todd to Darvin Adams pulled Auburn to within four. But then Jarrett Brown drove WVU seventy-four yards for another TD and it was 21-10, bad guys—and we weren’t even out of the first quarter!
In the second quarter the Tigers duplicated their first quarter feats exactly, as Byrum and Adams scored ten more and pulled Auburn to within only a point at the half.
The third quarter went back and forth, as Devine scored again (the PAT was missed) and then Mario Fannin took a pass 82 yards for a score. A WVU field goal just before the end of the quarter pushed the ‘Eers out to a three-point lead, at 30-27.
In the final frame, the Auburn defense made its presence known at last. They shut West Virginia down and out, turned the ball over on the Mountaineers’ 19 yard line, and then after the offense scored from there, ran back an interception for the TD that sealed the deal. Auburn had won, 41-30—won by double-digits, despite giving up over 500 yards of offense. It was remarkable.
What mattered here wasn’t just the win—though it was a good, out-of-conference win against a quality opponent, providing a bit of revenge for one of the many disappointing defeats of the previous (horrendous) season. What really mattered, and what would continue to matter for months afterward, was that the Auburn Family had come together to support this team, despite the horrible weather conditions and the Tigers falling behind by double-digits early and the game not ending until 11:21 Central time. That quality—that “All In” mind-set of the Auburn faithful—would carry the team and its supporters on a magical mystery tour that wouldn’t end until a certain contest in Glendale, some sixteen months later.
Many today would argue that what flowered into glory in the dry Arizona desert began with faith and dedication forged in the pouring rain.
Van Allen Plexico managed to attend Auburn (and score student football tickets) for some portion of every year between 1986 and 1996. He realizes that’s probably not something one should brag about, but hey. He teaches college near St Louis (because ten years as a student was somehow just not enough time to spend at school) and writes and edits for a variety of publishers. Find links to his various projects at www.plexico.net.
John Ringer graduated from Auburn in 1991 (which may be the greatest time ever to be an Auburn student – SEC titles in 1987, 88 and 89 and the 1989 Iron Bowl). His family has had season tickets every year since well before he was born and he grew up wandering around Jordan-Hare on game days. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia where he spends way too much time reading about college football on the internet and teaching his children to love Auburn football.
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