I’ve rewatched this play a lot lately:
Obviously, a different fourth-down completion has since emerged as the go-to example for anyone delving into the intersection of Auburn victory over Georgia and good fortune/divine intervention (delete as applicable). But it’s easy to imagine prayer at work in this one, too. Given how close Aromashodu is to the goal line, his fumble seems more likely to roll into the end zone and out of bounds than anything else. It doesn’t. It could roll out the back of the end zone. It doesn’t. It could roll somewhere with an easier Georgia recovery. It doesn’t. Courtney Taylor could easily boot the recovery, as the ball is still bouncing when he reaches it. He doesn’t. Of course, Aromashodu could also just not have ever fumbled and scored a touchdown, one that would have given Georgia nearly two full minutes (at home, against one of Tubby’s more pliable defenses) to score their own game-winning touchdown. He doesn’t do that, either.
What he does is fumble. What the fumble does is stay in-bounds. What Taylor does is make the recovery. And what Auburn does immediately afterwards is run out the clock, kick a chip-shot field goal, and move to 15-7-1 against Georgia over a 23-year span.
As more than one than one gleeful Dawg has pointed out since Saturday, in the series’ 15-year-span since that play, Auburn’s gone 3-12. THREE AND BLEEPING TWELVE. A Georgia fan might argue that if not for the bounce of the ball in Athens in 2005 and Jordan-Hare in 2013, we’d be talking about a 2-14 stretch, but it’s hard for me not to feel like those two games are some form of repayment for all the do-or-die late-fourth-quarter drives Auburn hasn’t finished.
2008: Down 4, Kodi Burns drives Auburn to the UGA 21 and the UGA 14 on consecutive possessions, but fires incomplete on both fourth-downs.
2015: Down 17-10 early in the fourth quarter after a Georgia punt return TD, Sean White fumbles at his own 17 to push the UGA lead to 10. Auburn’s ensuing drive reaches the Georgia 1, where Ricardo Louis fumbles. The Tigers lose 20-13 with a minus-3 turnover margin and the pivotal special teams TD allowed.
2016: I’m not even going to discuss this.
That brings us to 2019, and 4th-and-2 on the Georgia 34 with 2:24 to play and Auburn down 21-14. Bo Nix has Harold Joiner open in the flat for an easy conversion. His throw is well behind Joiner and incomplete. Georgia wins.
If what we remember most about the 2005 play is Aromashodu bursting free and the fumble-and-recovery lightning strike, it’s also worth coming back to Brandon Cox. 4th-and-10, game down to one snap, enemy crowd filling its lungs with blood, he steps into the pocket and throws a 30-yard dart to win the game.
Contrasting this throw with Nix’s isn’t to make a scapegoat of our freshman quarterback. Nix threw 50 passes against one of the nation’s best pass defenses without an interception; he led the team in rushing; he could have no doubt accomplished more if Auburn’s tailbacks didn’t average 2.6 yards a carry.
Contrasting Cox’s throw with Nix’s is to point out that if Auburn’s going to bring this series back to parity, it’s going to take both ends of that 2005 play. It’s going to take better luck than Georgia’s lone fumble tumbling out of bounds from several yards away while Auburn’s is recovered by the Dawgs; than the officials reversing a critical late-game catch they could have easily let stand; than the accumulation of events that left Auburn with zero points from 5 separate trips inside the Georgia 40.
But it’s also going to take better execution with the game in the fourth-quarter balance: a receiver holding onto the catch at the goal line, a punt coverage unit not giving up a touchdown, a quarterback completing a routine throw on 4th down. It’s also going to take a coaching staff establishing an offense that means the defense can occasionally take the responsibility of making the game-winning plays down the stretch.
Given how competitive Auburn’s been even in defeat, 2005’s not as far away as the 14 years or Auburn’s record against Georgia since then might make it seem. But that doesn’t make the wait to get back to Cox and Aromashodu any less agonizing.
— Not that I expect anything less than the full torch-and-pitchfork response from Auburn fans who are already done with Gus, but this wasn’t remotely the same kind of loss as the Florida loss or the LSU loss. The Gators outgained Auburn by 129 yards total and 1.1 per-play, the game only in doubt due to the Tigers forcing four Florida fumbles and recovering them all. LSU’s dominance was even more dramatic: a 221-yard advantage in total offense and a plus-1.6 margin in yards-per-play. If not for a muffed punt or DJ Williams’ big third-quarter run, Auburn would have gone into their last-minute desperation drive with all of 3 points — against the same LSU defense that Ole Miss just shredded for 614 yards and 37 points.
Against Georgia, Auburn won the total yardage battle 329-251, generated 7 trips inside the opponent’s 40 to the Dawgs’ 3 (despite losing the field position battle), and narrowly shaded Bill Connelly’s win expectancy measurement. Georgia won exclusively on their ability to finish drives. While that’s obviously an important part of college football performance, that’s different from Florida and LSU winning exclusively on their ability to stuff Auburn’s whole offense in a sack.
If the Tigers had lost to the Gators and Bayou Bengals the way they lost to Georgia, the frustration level discussed in this space last week wouldn’t be nearly as elevated. But of course, if the Tigers were good enough to have lost to the Gators and Bayou Bengals the way they lost to Georgia, they likely wouldn’t have lost to Georgia at all, so.
— Towards that end: no need to decide which train Gus will board just yet. Let’s see what happens a week from Saturday.
— Tua Tagovailoa’s injury was the cruelest reminder that objectively speaking, Derrick Brown never should have returned to Auburn. I can’t remember a season where I felt more invested in any player’s continued good health than Brown’s; for him to put millions of dollars on the line to take one more shot at helping Auburn to a championship, perform the way he has, and absorb a career-damaging injury even as the Tigers’ offense betrays the teams goals he returned to pursue would be entirely too much to take.
That he’s instead stayed healthy and ascended into the uppermost tier of college football’s defensive stars — the kind Gary Danielson goes out of his way to highlight for discarding a Georgia lineman like so much used Kleenex for a national audience — is comfortably the best part of Auburn’s season-to-date. Here’s to one series against Samford, more of the same against Alabama, and — if I had my way — an immediate transition to award collection and preparation for the draft that will give him his much-deserved millions. War Eagle, Derrick Brown.