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The Ten Greatest Games Played in Jordan-Hare, 2001-2011, Part 2

This week the Wishbone returns with another installment of “greatests ever,” this time concluding our look at the ten best games Auburn has played in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium in the years since 2000.

This column covers numbers 1-5 of the greatest home games from 2001-2011. (Numbers 6-10 can be found here, and the greatest games from prior to 2001 can be found beginning here.)

We welcome suggestions of games we’ve overlooked and arguments about the ones we’ve included. 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.

 

5.  Georgia, 2010.

As big as this game was in the 2010 campaign—an Auburn victory would mean an SEC West title and a trip to Atlanta, regardless of what happened against Alabama in Tuscaloosa a week later—it was perhaps even more important from a psychological standpoint.

Two days before the game with Chattanooga, the weekend previous, the first allegations about Cecil Newton and improprieties in his dealings with representatives from Mississippi State first emerged.  Cam’s response to critics who questioned if he would be able to focus on that game was to simply throw for a career-high 317 yards and four touchdowns (and run for a fifth) against the Mocs—all in the first half.

But with a week for the charges and insinuations to sink in and stew, it was the Georgia game that was to prove the true test of just how resilient Newton could be.

A lot was on the line.  Auburn was undefeated in the conference and overall, and the SEC Western Division title was on the line: if the Tigers beat Georgia, they would win the West and go to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta regardless of what happened against Alabama in Tuscaloosa a week later.  Some commentators even argued that a win against Georgia and a win in Atlanta would be enough to get the Tigers to the BCS National Championship Game in Arizona even if they were to lose to the Tide.

But first, Auburn had to beat Georgia—and for a time, that didn’t look like a done deal.

Prior to kickoff, very real questions hung in the air as to whether Newton would be the starter at quarterback, and if he would be allowed to play at all.  Visions of Barrett Trotter attempting to step in as the starter in a major SEC clash for the first time in his career and lead the Tigers to victory floated through the heads of many Auburn faithful as kickoff neared.  It wasn’t an entirely pretty picture to imagine.

As it turned out, Newton did get the start—the crowd went wild at that announcement, proving they were thoroughly taking his side in the matter and providing him and the rest of the team with much-needed energy—and he did play the entire game.

Those Bulldogs came into the game only 5-5, but were playing much better with the return from suspension of their star receiver, A. J. Green.  Indeed, in the first quarter alone, Green scored two touchdowns and helped pace Georgia to a 21-7 lead.  (Auburn had scored first on an astonishing run by Newton, in which he plowed along the right sideline and dragged half the Bulldog secondary into the end zone with him.)

In the second quarter, Auburn scored twice (with touchdowns by Onterrio McCalebb and Philip Lutzenkirchen) while the defense clamped down and blanked the Dawgs, sending the game to halftime tied, 21-21.

The third quarter saw Georgia attempt to keep pace with the Auburn offense, tying the game at 28-all after Auburn had finally taken the lead on another short McCalebb run.  But after McCalebb added his third short rushing TD of the game, Georgia could respond only with a field goal and, to borrow a tennis metaphor, the Bulldogs’ serve had been broken.  They’d had their chance to score and had settled for three points.  Auburn led, 35-31, as the third quarter ended.

In the fourth the Tigers pulled away at last.  Another Lutzenkirchen touchdown and then a short run by Newton put Auburn up for good, 49-31.  Auburn remained undefeated and now the SEC Western Division title was theirs.  A trip to Atlanta beckoned.  A jubilant Newton raced around the stadium, high-fiving everyone within reach, as fans exulted.

Questions about his eligibility remained to be answered, of course, and the whole mess wouldn’t ultimately be sorted out until a year later, when the NCAA concluded its investigation of the matter for good, finding no wrongdoing by Auburn or by Newton.  But Cam’s performance against Georgia that day—his accomplishments on the field, with his team, and the sheer spirit of joy and confidence as he played and celebrated—went a long, long way toward clearing the air and blowing away some of the black clouds that had hung over the program for the previous nine days.  It was a spiritual as well as a football victory—and a critical one in both respects.

 

4.  Arkansas, 2010.

A couple of other games in 2010 were perhaps bigger or more consequential or more memorable, but no game all year was as “don’t blink your eyes” exciting as this one.

Points?  You want points, you say?  This game gave you 108 of them!

It is somewhat astonishing to state that in a contest where the Auburn defense allowed the opposing team to score 43 points, roll up 566 total yards, and let the opponent’s backup QB complete fifteen of his first seventeen passes, the Tigers would go on to win by 22 points.  But there it is.

The game was a track meet—an offensive explosion (and the highest-scoring non-overtime SEC game in history) to put even those mid-1990s games with Steve Spurrier’s Florida to shame.

Auburn had been unsuccessful against Bobby Petrino’s Razorbacks in two previous attempts, with the final squad of his former head coach, Tommy Tuberville, falling to them in 2008 and the first squad of Gene Chizik doing the same the next year.  This game would be different, however—oh, would it ever be different.

Unlike several of the other close contests of the 2010 season, the Tigers didn’t fall far behind early in this one and have to claw their way back.  They led most of the way, and only seemed in real danger when backup Tyler Wilson replaced an injured Ryan Mallett at quarterback in the second quarter and started carving up the Auburn secondary.

The real fireworks for Auburn came in the fourth quarter.  With 14:09 to go, Arkansas had taken its first lead in a while, going up 43-37 on a Greg Childs touchdown reception from Tyler.  What followed had to be seen to be believed, and resembled nothing so much as the final frame of the 1985 Florida State game, where (as the Birmingham News headline at the time put it, after a fourth quarter scoring explosion by the Tigers,) “The Dam Breaks and Auburn Wins by 32.”

The Hogs had taken the lead, but they would not score again.  Unfortunately for them, the same could hardly be said for the Tigers.

Emory Blake started the festivities off with a fifteen-yard scoring catch from Cam Newton, capping off a nice drive and putting Auburn back ahead at 44-43.  The Hogs were pushing to try to reclaim the lead when Zac Etheridge picked up a Broderick Green fumble and ran it back 47 yards for another score.  Now it was 51-43.  (This was the moment later cited by Auburn players as the real turning point in the game, and there’s little doubt that’s true.)

On the first play of the next drive, Tyler Wilson threw an interception that was returned by Josh Bynes to the Hogs’ seven yard line.  You could just feel the Razorbacks starting to unravel now.  Cam Newton took two plays to blast his way in for the score, and now it was 58-43.

This time it took Arkansas three plays to turn the ball over, with Wilson again throwing it to Josh Bynes at the 47.  Again it took two plays to score, this time with runs by Mike Dyer.  The second one sealed the deal, covering the final 38 yards to the end zone and sending Auburn on to victory at 65-43.

A victory over Arkansas is always extra-sweet, given the notorious Hawg Hex about wish we have written extensively before.  A victory over Bobby Petrino should be savored like fine wine.  A win in a game where the opponent scores 43 points in your own stadium?  That’s something to be appreciated and cherished.  And a win that keeps you at the top of the SEC West standings, undefeated, and on track for Atlanta (and beyond)?  That, my Tiger friends, is simply priceless.

 

3. Georgia, 2004.

By this point, late in the 2004 season, third-ranked Auburn’s ultimate goal was to somehow jump over Oklahoma or USC into one of the top two spots in the BCS rankings, in order to secure a place in the BCS National Championship Game.  In order to do that, the Tigers had to look impressive in wins against quality opponents—and the Georgia Bulldogs were as good of an opponent as the Tigers were likely to face the rest of the way.

Ranked eighth in the country, the Bulldogs had lost only to Tennessee and were full of confidence as they entered Jordan-Hare for an afternoon game on CBS.

Auburn stood in their way, and fans were hoping to see the Tigers at their best on the field that day.  They would not be disappointed.

An Auburn offense that had had such trouble scoring the previous season was now clicking on all cylinders, thanks to the efforts of rookie Offensive Coordinator Al Borges.  The floral-shirted coach had found creative ways to involve both Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and Ronnie Brown in the offense simultaneously.  With Jason Campbell blossoming as the true star quarterback Tigers fans had always hoped he would become, throwing to a bevy of great receivers such as Devin Aromashodu, Ben Obomanu, Courtney Taylor and Anthony Mix, Georgia had its hands (or paws) full trying to slow down the Auburn attack.

The first scoring drive for Auburn combined one long pass to Brown with numerous runs by Williams, culminating with a one-yard dash by Cadillac around right end to provide the Tigers the early 7-0 lead.  Gene Chizik’s defense clamped down hard on David Greene and company, and the Bulldogs could get nothing going for most of the game.

Early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs managed to block a Kody Bliss punt and set up shop deep in Auburn territory—only to have future first-round NFL draft pick Carlos Rogers make an amazing leap and grab, intercepting the Greene pass in the end zone.

The second Auburn scoring drive, later in the second quarter, was something of a mirror-image of the first.  This time Campbell mostly threw the ball to Williams, while Brown did the damage on the ground.  To cap it off, Williams actually threw a halfback pass over the head of Georgia’s star safety to the waiting hands of Anthony Mix, who scrambled into the end zone.  Auburn’s defense held the Dawgs to three and out on the next series, and Cadillac returned the punt to Georgia’s 38.  Tight end Cooper Wallace took a pass down to the Bulldog 16, but the Tigers were stopped cold after that and settled for a 32-yard John Vaughn field goal.  The game went to halftime with Auburn ahead, 17-0.

Turnovers after long drives and strong defensive play by both teams kept the score the same well into the second half.  As the third quarter wound down, however, a 42-yard punt return by Cadillac set the Tigers up at Georgia’s thirty yard line, and Auburn would not squander this opportunity.  Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, Campbell swung a pass out to Ronnie Brown, who took it fifteen yards for the score.

With just over two minutes to go in the game, the Bulldogs finally got on the board, as David Greene strung together a series of passes against essentially a “prevent” Auburn defense.  The two-point attempt failed, and the game ended with Auburn again deep in Bulldog territory as time expired.

In a monumental SEC clash of grave importance to Auburn in its conference and national aspirations, the Tigers had come through like the champions they were destined to be, crushing a great Georgia team, 24-6.  Though the game that follows it on this list is perhaps better remembered as the real lynchpin of the 2004 undefeated season, this victory over Georgia was probably the Tigers’ best performance against a quality opponent that year, and was without question one of the finest performances in modern Auburn football history.

 

2.  LSU, 2004 Season.

The 2004 LSU game is such an easy contest to discuss. So many things concerning that game readily come to mind, even almost a decade later.

Auburn has gone undefeated three times in the past two decades (1993, 2004, 2010) and each one of those seasons seemed to come out of nowhere.  (If you thought our national championship in 2010 was shocking—and we did—just wait till the day Auburn accomplishes it in a year when we’re actually expected to do well!)  Of the three, however, the one where an argument could be made that it sort of should have happened was probably Tommy Tuberville’s 2004 squad.  All the pieces were in place, from seniors at quarterback and running back, to probably our best squadron of receivers in many years, to a dominant defensive back and a powerful defense and kicking game.  Gene Chizik had our defense clicking on all cylinders and new hire Al Borges certainly found ways to get production out of a talent-laden offensive unit that had been entirely stagnant the previous season under different coaching.

When the dust settled following the Tigers’ win over Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game, however, USC and Oklahoma were also still undefeated and they were chosen to play one another for the BCS title, leaving Auburn, relegated to facing Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.  It was cold comfort, after the games had all been played, to see USC absolutely destroy Oklahoma and leave Auburn ranked second in the final polls—the place the Tigers should have been all along, but recognized by the voters one poll too late to matter.

Be that as it may, the 2004 season was one for the ages for Auburn, and should be remembered and celebrated for all the team accomplished on the field.  And when we turn our attention to that season, and to the games played within Jordan-Hare Stadium (one of the main criteria for this list), a couple of games stand out as absolutely critical.  One of them is elsewhere on this list; the other is the LSU game on September 18.

LSU’s head coach that day was Nick Saban.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him.  His LSU squad had destroyed us the previous year, in a game in Baton Rouge the Auburn faithful quickly dubbed “Black Saturday.”  (Van was at a resort in Jamaica that weekend, fearful he wouldn’t be able to see the game. As it turned out, he did see it—and wished he hadn’t.)  That LSU team had gone on to claim the 2003 National Championship.  When they walked into Jordan Hare in the fall of 2004, they had a swagger about them, and were to some degree intimidating.  Auburn had experienced its ups and downs with LSU over the years since the conference split put the two of us in the same division and forced us to play annually.  Games hadn’t always gone the way they were expected.  But if 2004 was to be a big year for Auburn—a redemptive year—then the Bayou Bengals needed to be handled. The year before, despite having Jason Campbell and Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown on the squad, the offense had done little to nothing.  This year, however, we had a new weapon—one with a big belly and a loud Hawaiian shirt, and a plan for how to use the other weapons on offense.  Enter: Al Borges.

Borges employed multiple formations and lots of pre-snap motion to gain whatever advantage could be gained over LSU’s huge, tough defensive line.  It wasn’t spectacularly effective, but it eventually did produce just enough points.

At the beginning of the contest, it didn’t look to be the defensive battle it would turn into.  LSU drove down the field in fourteen plays and scored a touchdown on their opening possession but kicker Ryan Gaudet missed the extra point.  Then Auburn’s John Vaughn pulled the (good) Tigers to within three with a field goal near the end of the first quarter, concluding a matching fourteen-play drive on Auburn’s first possession.  Were we in store for a shootout?  Seriously?!

LSU added a 42-yard FG early in the second quarter, taking the Bayou Bengals to a 9-3 lead…but that would be all she wrote until almost the last minute of the game.  Now the expected defensive slugfest materialized, with both offenses grinding away fruitlessly like two European soccer teams stuck in a nil-nil draw.

The rest of the second quarter, all of the third, and most of the fourth would expire before Auburn finally put together a scoring drive that featured two absolutely clutch, critical plays—both involving passes from Jason Campbell to Courtney Taylor.  The first was a fourth down conversion on a rollout pass to the right side of the field.  Campbell avoided heavy pressure and got the ball downfield to a leaping Taylor, who just barely converted the down.  After a couple of Carnell Williams runs to the outside were stuffed for no gain by the ferocious LSU defense, Campbell rocketed a pass to Taylor in the middle of the end zone with 1:14 left to tie the game at 9-9.  Jordan-Hare erupted.

The drama was scarcely over.  Super-reliable kicker John Vaughn inexplicably duplicated Gaudet’s feat and missed the game-winning extra point!  But—wait—hold the phone—there was a flag on the play!  LSU violated the obscure and rarely-called “climbing on top of your teammate to try to block a kick” rule, and Auburn was allowed to re-try the kick.  As Nick Saban melted down in a rage on the LSU sideline, Vaughn redeemed himself by booting the do-over (this one just barely making it between the uprights) to give Auburn the 10-9 victory.  A Junior Rosegreen interception on LSU’s final drive secured the win for the Tigers.

The rest of Auburn’s season wouldn’t really feature a close contest—certainly nothing like this, where the Tigers had to come from behind in the final minutes.  This game would be the defining moment of the undefeateds of 2004.  And a monumental moment it was.

 

1.  LSU, 2010 Season.

We all know that the 2010 Auburn Tigers were the ones to finally break the curse and secure a coveted crystal football for the Auburn Family.  Unlike their forebears in 2004, who rarely won by less than double digits, it seemed as if this unit had to come from behind in frantic fashion nearly every week.  But they did.  They always did.  Every single time.

We weren’t always sure they would be able to—not even with those two human forces of nature, Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, acting like magic erasers and destroying the other team’s offenses and defenses on a regular basis.

But there was one particular moment in the 2010 season when many of us—certainly we intrepid Wishbone columnists, at least—came to truly believe in this team.  When we concluded that they really could beat anybody on a given day, and could quite possibly win it all.  That moment for us was the LSU game.

LSU came into the 2010 contest undefeated and ranked sixth in the country.  Auburn was also undefeated and ranked fifth.  The game would turn out to be a classic, with both teams scrapping hard for the few points the two defenses would allow.  Indeed, it had been obvious even before kickoff that this would be a low-scoring affair, pitting a great Auburn offense against a great LSU defense, and a mediocre LSU offense against a struggling-at-times Auburn defense.

The scoring was scarce but was spread fairly evenly across the four quarters.  Each quarterback scored on a short run in the first half, both kickers made a field goal, and the game went to halftime tied at 10-10.  The second half would be a bit more electric.

Auburn’s first score of the second half was quite possibly the single most spectacular play of the year for the Tigers, and the one that most visibly defined Cam Newton’s Heisman-winning season individually.  Newton took the snap at midfield, faked a handoff, picked his way to the right through the line, put a hand down briefly to reverse his course, and then rambled in seeming slow-motion to about the fifteen—whereupon LSU’s blazing defensive back, Patrick Peterson, caught up with him.  In response, Cam actually seemed to find another gear and pulled away from Peterson just enough to cross the goal line as he was being tackled.  Newton’s Superman-like efforts on the play electrified the crowd and put Auburn up by seven.

LSU retaliated early in the fourth quarter, using a trick play to score from 39 yards out on a halfback pass from Spencer Ware to Reuben Randle.  The game was once again tied—but would not remain so for much longer.

The final score, and yet another spectacular one, came on a simple give from Cam Newton to human rocket Onterrio McCalebb.  More often than not, when executing this famous “jet-sweep” play, Newton would keep the ball himself, as he had done on his previous score.  This time, he allowed McCalebb to take it, and take it he did—zipping down the left sideline for seventy yards and the score.

The Auburn defense, which for all its struggles at times actually did manage to hold opponents to an average of fewer than four points in the fourth quarter, stopped LSU with three minutes left.  Victory was sealed.  Auburn was still undefeated and Cam Newton had solidified himself as the Heisman front-runner.

Huge contests with Georgia (at home) and Alabama (on the road) still remained to be played, but this was the game where many members of the Auburn Family nodded their heads and said to themselves and their loved ones, “This team actually can go all the way.”  This was also the game where, afterward, Van went online and bought two tickets to the BCS Championship Game in Glendale, Arizona.

It was now clear to everyone:  If we could win this one, we could win ‘em all.

And we did.

 

LSU Photo via The Corner News.

Related: The Ten Greatest Auburn Teams of the Modern Era.

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.

Previous Wishbone columns are waiting for you here. Follow John and Van on Twitter: @AUWishbone.

Order Season of Our Dreams — every “Wishbone” column from the 2010 preseason through the fabled Date in the Desert, plus a stadium full of extras.

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