(Tommy Tuberville's Greatest Games!)
War Eagle, everybody! Have we had enough college football in the past two weeks? No! Time now for another look back, at one of Tommy Tuberville's greatest games. On October 13, 2001, Florida came flying into Auburn for a showdown with the Auburn Tigers. The weather was the real story, leading up to this game.
Fall in the South is the driest time of year, usually. Bright blue skies and continued warm temps make it an ideal time for football. At some point, though, the cold from up north prevails, and we get that first front. The rains come at last, followed by plunging temperatures. A cold front was approaching, but it was still unseasonably warm, at 77 degrees for a 6:50 PM kickoff. The wind was swirling. The breeze consistently maintained a 15 MPH presence, with gusts up to 30. Intermittent rain fell during the game, pushed sideways by the wind. It was not an inviting night in Jordan Hare Stadium, especially not for the high-flying Florida Fun 'n' Gun!
Florida was riding high, going into this game, ranked number one in the nation. The Gators were 5-0, fresh off a 44-15 beating of LSU in Baton Rouge. Florida was averaging 49 points per game, and head coach Steve Spurrier felt that it was his most talented assemblage of players, ever. Florida was a prohibitive favorite on the road against a young, struggling, injury-riddled Auburn team.
Auburn entered this contest with a 4-1 record, but it had not come easily. Following a lackluster opening win over Ball State, Auburn had jumped out to a big lead over Ole Miss, then watched helplessly as Eli Manning nearly brought the Rebels back. The Tigers escaped that one, 27-21. Two weeks later, freshman quarterback Jason Campbell got his first road start, in the Carrier Dome, in Syracuse, New York. Freshman jitters produced 4 fumbles in the Auburn backfield, and Dwight Freeny, Jame Mungro and company pounded Auburn 31-14. Auburn limped to Nashville, where it took a long Damon Duval field goal, and a desperate defensive stand to hold off Vanderbilt, 24-21. Auburn returned home, and struggled with Mississippi State, needing a 47-yard Damon Duval field goal with 18 seconds left, to defeat the Bulldogs.
None of the teams Auburn had struggled to beat in the early season, would go bowling, in 2001. In fact, Vandy and Mississippi State would combine for a 5-17 record. No one except Tommy Tuberville gave the Tigers a chance, against Florida. Injuries had riddled the defense. Spencer Johnson and DeMarco McNeil were playing gimped up in the middle. The linebackers were a REAL mess. Young players like Mayo Sowell, Derrick Graves, and Phillip Pate saw their first action, often not even knowing where to line up. A battered secondary started true freshman Carlos Rogers at one corner. On offense, the Tigers had a veteran line, but were green everywhere else, especially in the backfield.
Game Recap, after the jump!
Auburn won the toss, and elected to take the ball, and keep it out of the hands of Spurrier's dangerous offense. Auburn survived a Roderick Hood fumble on the return, and set up shop at the Tiger 24 yard line. A quick three and out ensued, ending with a sack of Jason Campbell. The wind caught Damon Duval's first punt, and it sailed out of bounds for only 31 yards.
Set up near midfield, the Gators connected on a slip screen to Taylor Jacobs to Auburn 29. A draw to Robert Gillespie went nowhere, so Rex Grossman went to the air again, and found the wind troubling. Two incomplete passes later, the Gators brought in Jeff Chandler, who booted a 45 yard field goal. With 11:24 left in the first quarter, the Gators led, 3-0.
Auburn's Tim Carter took the ensuing kickoff at the goal line, and was forced hard toward the boundary. Carter hit the corner, turned it up, and outraced much of the Gator coverage, tight roping the sideline. 68 yards later, Carter was forced out at the Gator 32, where Auburn would set up on offense with great field position. Again, though, it was three and out for the Tigers. No success on the ground, impossible to throw downfield, and in came Damon Duval, for a difficult 45-yard attempt with a heavy side wind. Having learned from his earlier punt, Duval kicked a booming ball diagonally into the wind, and the football hooked back, right through the middle of the uprights! With 9:39 left in the first quarter, Auburn had tied the game, 3-3.
Having gained proficiency with the wind, Duval expertly nailed the kickoff for a touch back. After a Gator draw play was blown up for a 4 yard loss by Reggie Torbor, the Gators took to the air. Rex Grossman had one of the strongest arms in the nation, and he dealt with the wind by throwing line-drive rockets. The first was an out and up, to Carlos Perez, for 32 yards. Then a dump over the middle to Robert Gillespie for 13 more, and a first down at the Auburn 39. It wouldn't last, though The Gators unraveled . A delay of game and a Rashaud Walker sack off the safety blitz knocked the Gators out of scoring position, and Matt Leach punted for a touch back.
It was Auburn's turn to come unraveled, on this possession. A dive to Ronnie Brown gained nothing. Campbell missed an open Tim Carter, then panic-scrambled for a one yard loss on 3rd down. During this series, Auburn was flagged for illegal shift and a personal foul. Damon Duval punted from the Auburn 10. The wind caught the punt, pushing it down short at the Auburn 47, and Lito Sheppard wriggled free of the initial contain, and he sliced down to the Auburn 24, where Karlos Dansby made a touchdown-saving tackle.
Steve Spurrier went for the throat, as everyone in the nation knew he would. Roderick Hood was ready for the trademark corner route in the end zone. The ball sailed a bit in the wind, and Hood picked it off for a touch back. Noel Mazzone and Tommy Tuberville had seen enough of ineffective offense, lifted Jason Campbell, and inserted Daniel Cobb at quarterback. Florida's Alex Brown stuffed Casinious Moore on a first down carry, then Cobb missed a screen pass. Then a perfect slant pass to Tim Carter was dropped, and the Tigers had to punt again. This time, Duval got off a 55 yard howitzer, and the Gators were pushed back to their own 26 yard line.
The Gators first handoff went for nothing, as Phillip Pate and Mayo Sowell met Robert Gillespie in the hole. The Tiger gameplan was to stuff the run, and make tackles on the Florida receivers. Back to back screens toward Gillespie were snuffed out by the Tiger D, and Florida had to punt. There was a bit of a lull in the wind, and Matt Leach out kicked his coverage for 49 yards. Roderick Hood made good use of the open field, taking the ball back 23 yards to the Auburn 41.
Daniel Cobb was in again at quarterback, and the Tigers began to drive the ball, for the first time in the game. First, Cobb lit the Gators up on a PERFECTLY thrown wheel route, to Casinious Moore for 31. A dropped ball, and a short Carnell Williams run brought up 3rd and 9 at the Gator 27. A slant to Deandre Green only picked up 6, and it was 4th and 3. The Riverboat Gambler was at it again, running another slant to Green. Florida read it, but Green leaned his tall frame forward for 3 yards, and another Tiger first down. As the first quarter ended, the Tigers had a new set of downs at the Gator 18 yard line, tied at 3-all.
The Gators jumped offsides on the first play of the second quarter, and the Tigers brought in the jumbo set. Auburn survived a delay of game call, and repeated pounding brought up a 4th and goal in the shadow of the Florida goal line. A 4th down quarterback sneak, and Cobb was IN, for the touchdown! Damon Duval's kick made it Auburn 10, Florida 3, with 11:03 left in the half.
Duval bombed another kickoff out of the end zone, and the Gators started at their own 20. The Gators went three and out, failing on a third and short as Mayo Sowell popped Robert Gillespie for a loss. Matt Leach punted Auburn back to their own 31. Auburn opened with the bootleg, and Cobb found Robert Johnson wide open on the cross, and Johnson dropped it. Auburn got INCREDIBLY lucky on the next play, as a bad snap turned into a scrum at the Tiger 17. Somehow, the Tigers retained possession, AND the Gators drew a personal foul flag. First down, at the Tiger 32. Casinious Moore slashed off the right side, for a first down, out of bounds at the Tiger 45. Cobb then hit Jeris McIntyre on a short crossing route, down to the Florida 41. A 5-yard Carnell Williams run would set up 3rd and 5 at the Gator 36, but Cobb would miss Joe Walkins on a comeback play, and Duval punted for a touch back.
Spurrier and Grossman went back to sideline throws, which had been the only Gator offense to work, so far. The Gators picked up a couple of first downs that way, then survived a Grossman fumble at the Gator 43. Grossman got it back, and hit Jabar Gaffney on a slant for another first down, then the Tigers were flagged for grabbing Gaffney on the next pass. Florida had first down at the Auburn 29. A couple more short passes had the Gators another first down at the Tiger 14. Spurrier went to his trademark corner route to Taylor Jacobs, but the Tigers were there. Incomplete. Two more screen passes netted a loss of a yard, and the visored one sent in the kicker, Jeff Chandler. The field goal was good from 32, and the Gators had trimmed the Tiger lead to 4, with 21 seconds left in the half. The Tigers ran the clock out, and at the half, Auburn led Florida, 10-6. I don't think anyone in America had imagined this Florida team, trailing at the half!
Damon Duval started the second half with another touch back kickoff. And then, Rex Grossman went to work, firing on intermediate routes, designed to work on Auburn's zone, and the young outside linebackers in the game. It worked for a while, as the Gators shredded the Tigers for three quick first downs. Then, Grossman fired one right to linebacker Phillip Pate, who was so surprised at the interception, that he fell down! Tigers took over, at their own 29 yard line.
Auburn lost an apparent first down pass to Tim Carter, on an illegal shift penalty, and the replay of the down was incomplete. Damon Duval came in to punt it dead at the Gator 28. On this possession, Steve Spurrier decided that since there was no way to figure out where the Auburn linebackers were going to line up, he'd try to isolate on the young Auburn corners. Grossman and Reche Caldwell took young freshman corner Carlos Rogers to school, hitting the Tigers for 3 first downs, then a 20-yard touchdown pass on a wide-open flag route. Jeff Chandler's PAT made it Florida 13, Auburn 10, with 7:48 left in the third quarter.
After a touch back, Daniel Cobb opened with a 20 yard keeper for a first down. But then, there was a fumble DEEP in the Tiger backfield, and Cobb got it back for a loss of 16 yards. A couple of incompletions and a holding penalty later, Damon Duval was punting out of his own end zone. Duval got off a monster 48-yarder, to push the Gators back to their own 42.
Needing just a touchdown to pretty much take control of the game, the Gators melted down in the rain. A Grossman pass to Rob Roberts netted one first down, at the Auburn 47. A run to Robert Gillespie was useless, as it had been all night. James Callier slid inside and stuffed it for nothing. A successful screen was called back for holding. Then the Gators were flagged for a false start. A Grossman pass was then batted down at the line by young tackle Marcus White. Steve Spurrier threw first his visor, then his whole headset. On third and 25, Spurrier sent in the punting team. Matt Leach could not handle the wet snap in the wind, and had to fall on the ball at the Gator 20. Luckily for Florida, it had only been 3rd down! On 4th and 43, the Gators successfully punted it away, but only to the Auburn 43.
Auburn tried to pound it, but a first down run for a couple of yards by Casinious Moore was called back for holding. From 1st and long, Cobb threw three consecutive incomplete passes, as the wind and rain had REALLY picked up. Damon Duval launched a MONSTER 60+ yard punt, that disappeared into the clouds, and went for a touch back. In the blinding rain, a first down Gator run to Gillespie got nothing, stuffed for a loss of 1 by end Javor Mills. Grossman threw two balls away in the rain. Back went Jeff Chandler to punt, again. This time, Auburn went after him. With Donnay Young bearing down, the ball dribbled on the ground, and never made it to Chandler. It was Derrick Graves of the Auburn Tigers, who ended up with the loose ball, at the Gator 2 yard line! Auburn ended the third quarter with two straight Moore dives, for absolutely nothing, as Andra Davis and Marquand Manuel led the defensive charge. At the end of three quarters, it was Florida 13, Auburn 10, but the Tigers were knocking on the door!
On 3rd and goal at the two, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone put in 4th team tailback Chris Butler. They ran Butler to the outside, and Butler cracked over a pair of Gators for the Auburn touchdown! Damon Duval booted the PAT, and the Tigers were back in the lead, 17-13, with 14:55 left in the game. There was still plenty of time left in the game, though, for an offense as potent as the Gators!
After a kick return to the Florida 24, Rex Grossman lined the Gators up on first down. Auburn looked unsettled on D, as Mayo Sowell and Phillip Pate looked helplessly at each other, hesitantly trying to figure out where they should set up. At the last second, both guys just dropped deeper. Grossman tried a seam route under the safeties to Caldwell, but Sowell had dropped into that zone. Mayo Sowell came up with the interception, and took it down to the Gator 22!
Two Casinious Moore runs brought up 3rd and one, and again, in came Chris Butler. The Gators weren't fooled this time, though. Byron Hardmon nailed Butler for a 3 yard loss. Despite the swirling wind, Damon Duval was true on the 32 yard attempt, and the Tigers extended the lead to 20-13, with 12:27 left. The new lead would be fleeting, though.
After another Duval touchback, Rex Grossman went deep. Jabar Gaffney went streaking downfield on a go route. Grossman laid it up perfectly, hitting Gaffney in stride behind the Auburn secondary. Despite giving up the lead, Auburn got by with some questionable conduct, on the play. Around the ten yard line, Gaffney turned around, showing the ball to the Tiger secondary, taunting Robert Hood. Hood chased Gaffney into the end zone, and slammed him down on the grass seven yards deep. The officials ignored the whole thing. Jeff Chandler's PAT was good, and the game was tied at 20-all, with 12:09 left.
Auburn did not block the ensuing short kickoff well, and Tim Carter was forced out of bounds at the Auburn 18. However, the Tigers started their longest drive of the game. First, Daniel Cobb pulled off a well-designed tight end screen to Lorenzo Diamond for 21 yards. On second and five, Cobb and Casinious Moore repeated their wheel route heroics from the first quarter, this time for 30 yards and a first down at the Gator 26. On third and four, Cobb made a clutch throw to Carnell Williams for seven, and a first and goal at the Gator seven yard line. A Tiger false start backed it up to third and goal at the nine, and Daniel Cobb set sail for the end zone on a quarterback draw. The middle of the field was wide-open, and it looked like a sure six! But Cobb was carrying the ball like a loaf of bread, and lost it just before the goal line. The Gators recovered for a touch back, and an 82 yard drive had been for naught. 7:06 remained in the tie game.
The wind was still kicking, and the Gators hadn't done anything on the ground all day, so Spurrier went back to the sideline. Two missed passes later, it was 4th and 7, and the Gators punted it back to Auburn. Leach got off a 47 yard rocket, but Robert Hood snaked through traffic for 16, and the Tigers had it at their own 47, with 6:05 left in the game. After an incomplete pass, and a five yard draw to Moore, it was a 3rd and 5 possession play for Auburn. With the game on the line, Casinious Moore coughed up the ball, and the Gators recovered at their own 47, with 5:55 left. It was plenty of time for Grossman and the explosive Gators.
With the game on the line, Grossman hit Jabar Gaffney underneath, and Gaffney took it for a first down to the Auburn 38. After an illegal formation flag on the Gators, they tried to hit Gaffney deep again, in the Auburn end zone. This time, Auburn was in zone, and the linebackers had again been confused, and just dropped back. The wind held up the deep throw, and Karlos Dansby snared the interception, the fourth of the day thrown by Rex Grossman. Dansby took the ball back out to the Auburn 24. There was 4:28 left in the game, and it was do or die time for the Tigers!
Casinious Moore carried first, and was shut down for only a yard. Cobb dumped it over the middle, and Lorenzo Diamond picked up a first down out to the Tiger 40. Next was a short slant to Joe Walkins, for 3. Then, Cobb hit Jeris McIntyre tight roping the Gator sideline, for a first down at the 45. Carnell Williams took the delay, and juked three Florida defenders for a nine yard gain. The Gators helped out on 2nd and 1, by jumping offsides. Auburn returned the favor, with a false start on first down. On first and 15 from the Gator 35, Cobb was flushed for a 3 yard gain, barely holding onto the ball. Inexplicably, the clock kept running. Were the Gators playing for overtime? On second down, a draw to Carnell Williams picked up 7. Finally, the Gators called timeout, with 23 seconds left in the game. On 3rd and 5 at the Florida 25, Auburn ran Carnell Williams toward the middle of the field, where he lost two yards, but set up a straight field goal shot. Florida called their last timeout with 17 seconds.
The rain had diminished, but the wind was still blowing mightily, from right to left. Damon Duval came in for the 44-yard attempt, and calmly smacked the ball to the right towards the stands. The ball bit into the wind, hooked back, and went through for the game winner! With ten seconds left, Auburn had the lead, 23-20! That was three late, 40-yard plus game winning field goals, in a row, for Damon Duval! His midseason performance powered him to All-American honors, in 2001.
The Gators had almost no time left. Keiwan Ratliff returned the kickoff to the Gator 25, where they had time for one last desperation rugby play, which only picked up four yards. The Tigers had done it! They had knocked off the number one ranked Gators, 23-20! Auburn was now tops in the SEC, at 5-1, and undefeated in conference play!
Florida would recover from the shocking loss, but they were all but out of the national championship picture. Wins over Georgia, Vandy, and South Carolina followed. Then, Florida BOMBED defending ACC Champ Florida State, 37-13, in Gainesville. It was the Gators' first win over the Seminoles since 1997. On Thanksgiving weekend, the one-loss Gators would face the one loss Tennessee Vols in the Swamp, for the division title. Tennessee came to play. The Gator defense, with a late lead, repeated their Auburn performance, allowing a game winning drive at the end. The Gators fell at home, 34-32. The Gators got a sweet consolation reward, though, going to the Orange Bowl as an at large bid, where they DESTROYED Maryland, 56-23. The Gators finished the season at 10-2, but with championship talent on hand, Steve Spurrier was mighty frustrated. Shortly after the bowl game, Spurrier resigned, ending a twelve year reign of terror over the SEC at Florida. After a failed NFL attempt, and a 28-22 comeback record at South Carolina (15-17 in the SEC), it's safe to say that the glory years of Steve Spurrier are long gone.
Auburn's season peaked with the Florida win, and then went into a tailspin. First, Auburn survived Daniel Cobb's first start, marred by 4 interceptions, to outlast Louisiana Tech 48-41 in overtime. In Fayetteville, Auburn survived a few first half Cobb turnovers to trail only 21-17, but a 4th quarter melt-down resulted in an ugly 42-17 loss. Auburn handed freshman running back Carnell Williams the ball 41 times in Athens, and escaped the Bulldogs 24-17, after Mark Richt made a bad play call on the goal line. In the Iron Bowl, Carnell Williams broke his collarbone early, and the Tigers tanked. A 4-5 Alabama team ROLLED over Auburn, 31-7, and Tommy Tuberville's job was suddenly in jeopardy! In a makeup game in Baton Rouge, with the SEC West still on the line for both teams of Tigers, Auburn had gone back to Jason Campbell as the starter. Campbell responded by hooking up on a long bomb to Tim Carter for a touchdown, and an early 7-7 tie. The Tigers never tried to throw deep again, and we watched as LSU won the division, 27-14. Auburn ended the season with a dismal offensive performance in the Peach Bowl, losing to a 6-5 North Carolina team, 16-10. After homecoming, Auburn had lost 4 out of 5, and finished 7-5. Tommy Tuberville fired both of his coordinators, Noel Mazzone and Jon Lovett (unfairly, I think!), and got set to re-tool the team for the future. The firings opened a revolving door of coordinators, which may have hastened the end of the Tuberville era.