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War Eagle, everybody! Time now for the last recap in the series of Tommy Tuberville's greatest games! The 2007 game against Florida in Gainsville would be the last time a Tommy Tuberville-coached team would defeat a top-ten team. The victory over the Gators would mark the 14th win for the Auburn Tigers, in the last 19 attempts against top ten teams, a run dating back to 2001.
Saturday night, September 29th, 2007 was a warm one in Gainesville, Florida, at 79 degrees for the 8:10 PM kickoff. The game was an ESPN Primetime production, on national television. Talking head Lou Holtz was asked before the game what chance Auburn had to win the game, and Lou answered, “I think about as much chance as me being Senator of Florida!”
The powerful Gators were ranked 4th in the nation, and they were undefeated coming into this contest at 4-0. After a 59-20 demolition of the Tennessee Volunteers, many folks were ready to go ahead and anoint Florida as the SEC Champions. However, a week earlier, Ed Orgeron's Ole Miss Rebels had exposed some cracks in the Gator armor. If a defense could limit ace receiver/runner Percy Harvin, the Gators were beatable. Florida had narrowly escaped from Oxford with a 30-24 win.
The Auburn Tigers were reeling, coming into this matchup, and no one gave them much chance. Auburn had struggled mightily in the season-opener, a 23-13 win over Kansas State. Then, the Tigers were shocked at home, in overtime, by the South Florida Bulls, 26-23. Against Mississippi State, veteran starting quarterback Brandon Cox was benched after throwing two early interceptions. True freshman Kodi Burns made his debut, and the Tigers fell 19-14. Most recently, Auburn had pulled away after a tight first half, and defeated the New Mexico State Aggies 55-20.
Injuries, and poor play throughout the offense had hurt the Tigers. Expected to be deep at running back, the Tigers had seen all but sophomore Ben Tate and freshman Mario Fannin fall by the wayside. Brad Lester was in academic limbo, Tristan Davis was nursing a hurt foot, and super-recruit Enrique Davis had failed to qualify. Fannin had showed big-play ability, but was fumbling WAY too often. Receivers showed little ability to get open, and were dropping quite a few balls. On the offensive line, play was so poor that the coaches had taken the drastic step of benching several veterans, and starting three true freshmen, Lee Ziemba, Ryan Pugh, and Chaz Ramsey.
Game recap, after the jump!
Florida won the toss, and elected to take the ball on offense. True freshman Wes Byrum kicked off, and the kick fluttered only to the 15, where Brandon James took the ball, and sprinted all the way out to the 43 yard line. The Gators started out trying to run on the Auburn defense. A give on the end around to Percy Harvin started it, but the Tigers were spying Harvin. Freshman safety Zac Etheridge limited Harvin to 2 yards. A dive to Kestahn Moore picked up 3, then the Gators picked up a false start penalty. On 3rd and 10, Tim Tebow's slant pass to Jarred Fayson had no chance. The Gators were three and out! Chas Henry booted it down to the Auburn 14, fair caught by Robert Dunn.
Auburn's first drive did not begin well. Much like possessions earlier in the season, the drive began with an ineffective dive into the line by Ben Tate, which picked up only 2. On second down, end Derrick Harvey sacked Brandon Cox for a nine yard loss. On 3rd and 17, the Tigers set up the screen from the end zone, to Ben Tate, who got loose for 16 yards, but was stopped short of the stake. Tuberville elected to punt it away, and Gator special-teamer Jamar Hornsby decided to just run through punter Ryan Shoemaker after the ball was away. The Gators were flagged for it, and the Tigers had new life at the 28. Kodi Burns entered the game, and dealt it off on a reverse to Robert Dunn, who was blown up for an 8 yard loss. A 2nd and 18 handoff to Tate picked up 4. On third and long, Cox stepped up and drilled a strike over the middle to Rod Smith, who took it 21 yards, up to the 45, for a first down. Cox dropped to throw again, and rifled an out to Smith, for another first down to the Gator 42. A first down run by Tate was stuffed for a loss by Brandon Spikes, but Cox found Montez Billings on the hitch, down to the Gator 30 for another first down. Mario Fannin entered the game, and knifed off right tackle for 11 more. Cox fired a slant to Rod Smith, down to the Gator 10. Ryan Pugh jumped for the Tigers, backing it up 5 yards. Two consecutive gives to Tate brought up first and goal at the six, and Kodi Burns was back in. Out of the shotgun, Burns took off on the obvious quarterback draw, but the Gators were unable to stop it. Burns banged into the end zone, for the Auburn touchdown! Wes Byrum knocked in the PAT, and with 6:06 left in the first quarter, Auburn led 7-0! It was a 14 play drive, that had eaten up over 7 minutes of clock.
Auburn was victimized again on the kickoff, allowing James to take it 31 yards up the boundary, and the Gators would start at the 38. Tebow found Riley Cooper underneath, for 9 yards, pushed out by Jerraud Powers. On second down, Tebow tried to bull through the middle, but found it tough going, against the Auburn line! Antonio Coleman and SenDerrick Marks combined to stone Tebow for no gain! A false start cost the Gators, then Tebow swung a screen out to Moore, who was dropped in his tracks for no gain, by Jonathan Wilhite! The Gators were three and out again! Henry's punt only went 35 yards, and was fair caught by Robert Dunn at the Tiger 22.
Brandon Cox's first pass of the drive sailed incomplete, then Mario Fannin took a draw for 9. On third and one, it was an inside handoff to fullback Carl Stewart, who plunged for 2 yards and a first down. Next, Cox fired over the middle to Montez Billings, for 18 more, and a first down at the Gator 49. From there, a false start on Tyrone Green killed the drive. Fannin lost two on a handoff, then Cox was sacked again, this time by Brandon Spikes. Ryan Shoemaker punted away, for 49 yards. Brandon James actually fielded it at the six, and escaped back out to the 17. The first quarter came to an end, and Auburn led, 7-0.
As the second quarter began, Florida went to the option. Jarred Fayson got 4 on the pitch from Tebow, then Harvin slashed for 8 and a first down. Tebow took it up the middle, but was met by Tray Blackmon and Craig Stevens, who stopped him for 3. Tebow then dumped one on to the sideline, to Fayson, who was run out by Aaron Savage after 5. On third and 2, Tebow fired a quick out to Cornelius Ingram, who took it out of bounds for 6, and another first down. The Gator machine was starting to move... Tebow went deep for Andre Caldwell, too far, but then found Harvin underneath. Harvin took it for 20, then was roughed up out of bounds by Aaron Savage. The flag gave Florida a first down at the Auburn 23, but then the Tiger defense rose to the occasion. Tebow went to Percy Harvin 3 times, and netted a total of six yards, as the Tigers harried the speedy Gator wherever he went! Coach Urban Meyer sent in the field goal team. Joey Ijjas' kick was BLOCKED, by SenDerrick Marks, and Gators came up empty on the drive!
From the Tiger 20, Auburn opened with another inside handoff to Ben Tate, for 3. Cox followed with a tight end screen, to Gabe McKenzie, who juggled the ball, but eventually held on and got a first down at the 30. Next up was a fake to Tate, then the wheel route to Carl Stewart, who had slipped into the Gator secondary unnoticed. Stewart was banged out after a 22 yard gain. The Tigers ran a similar play again, but this time Cox left it with Tate, who churned off the right side for 10. Cox went to the air on first down, and found Montez Billings running free down the seam, for 25! Kodi Burns took a QB draw for 4, to the Gator 9. Cox missed Rod Smith, but then took off on 3rd and 6, and picked up 5. On 4th and one, Auburn went with a handoff to Tate, good for a yard, and the first down at the 3! On the next play, it was another dive to Tate, and he stretched the ball across the goal line, for the Auburn touchdown! Wes Byrum's PAT was good! With 6:21 left in the half, Auburn led the 4th ranked Gators 14-0!
Fired up, Wes Byrum nailed the kickoff for a rare touch back. Florida needed to get SOMETHING going before half, and Tim Tebow got 'em cranked up. Tebow's first carry was right into Quentin Groves, for only 2. Kestahn Moore got 4, then on 3rd and 6, Tebow took off on the draw for 11. Tebow hammered for 3 more, then Fayson cut a sweep up the middle for 6. On 3rd and 1, Tebow play-faked, and threw complete to Cornelius Ingram. Patrick Lee ran him out at the Auburn 37, but it was a new set of downs for Florida. Tebow threw a screen to Moore for 3, but then Florida was called for a personal foul. Tebow dumped another one to the sideline, and Louis Murphy got only 4. On 3rd and 18, Tebow went underneath to Harvin, who was chased down by Zac Etheridge and Michael Goggins, at the 37. On 4th and 10, and less than a minute left in the half, the Gators went for it. Tebow rifled one to Murphy, just shy of the stake. Eric Brock hammered Murphy, and took the ball away! Auburn recovered the loose ball!
Auburn took over at the 29, and took a knee. The half ran out, and Auburn led, 14-0! On defense, Auburn was having great success limiting Tebow on the ground, and chasing Percy Harvin with multiple defenders. Auburn was challenging the Gators to beat 'em with someone else. On offense, Auburn time and time again had exploited a young Florida secondary that was playing too far back. At the half, we KNEW that Meyer would make some adjustments!
An illegal block call tacked onto a short return, had Auburn backed up to the 8 yard line after the kickoff. Tate lost a yard, Cox threw out of bounds, then Tate got 2, and Auburn was 3 and out. Ryan Shoemaker got the roll on the punt, and it was downed at the Gator 45.
Tebow went for the throat immediately, launching a deep bomb on first down, to Percy Harvin. Harvin was well-covered by Patrick Lee, but managed to haul it in for 52 yards. Lee made the tackle at the Auburn 3 yard line. Tebow tried the QB draw, and was BURIED for a 4 yard loss by SenDerrick Marks, who was having none of it! Auburn brought the house on the next two plays, and the pressure forced incomplete throws on both! Meyer sent in Joey Ijjas, who knocked in the 24 yard field goal. With 11:58 left in the third quarter, Florida had cut the Tiger lead to 14-3.
Ijjas booted one for a touch back, but the Gators were offsides. Tristan Davis took the second kick, and roared out to the 31. Any excitement would be short lived. Under pressure the whole way, Cox threw two incomplete, then was sacked hard by Ryan Stamper. Shoemaker got off a monster punt, that rolled dead at the Gator 24. The 54 yard punt really had flipped the field position!
Tebow went play-action on first down, but Auburn was after him hard. Tebow lofted it up on a deep corner throw. The ball sailed, and Patrick Lee intercepted it! Needing badly to get SOME sort of offense going in the second half, Auburn inserted Mario Fannin into the backfield. Fannin's first two carries went for 6, then 12 yards. Then, Fannin was stuffed for nothing by A. J. Jones. Cox got the Gators playing too deep again, with an out to Rod Smith, for 17 and a much-needed first down. Fannin broke loose over the right side, churning for 14, and another first down at the Gator 17! On a counter, Fannin knifed through the middle for 11, and it was first and goal at the six. From there, it was the Gator D's turn to toughen up. Tate lost 3 to the short side, then Kodi Burns came in to run yet another QB draw. Florida finally had this figured out, and Kodi went down for a 5 yard loss. On 3rd and goal from the 14, Auburn tried the wheel route to Stewart again, but it never really got set up. The pass fell harmlessly to the turf. In came Wes Byrum, and he knocked in the 30 yard FG attempt! With 6:09 left in the third quarter, Auburn's lead was back up to 14! The Tigers led, 17-3.
Wes Byrum's kickoff did make the end zone, but Brandon James gashed the Auburn coverage for 35. Tebow took it up the gut for 6, then Harvin got 3. On third and one, everyone in the stadium knew it was going to be Tebow. So did Pat Sims, who stood Tebow up, and didn't allow an inch! On 4th and 1, the Gators went for it, but an apparent first down was wiped out by an illegal formation penalty. In came Chas Henry, to punt it away. Henry's 41 yard punt was fair caught by Robert Dunn at the Auburn 20.
Like so many unimaginative, failed drives that plagued Auburn in 2007, this one began with yet another dive play to Ben Tate into an 8-man front. Tate was stood up at the line, and this time the ball came out. The Gators recovered at the Auburn 38. Tebow flipped it to Ingram for 9, then scrambled for 11, and the Gators had first down at the Auburn 18. A screen to Moore was swallowed up by Powers and Wilhite, for nothing. Tebow tried the middle again, and Chris Evans slung him down after 3. On 3rd and 7, Tebow stuffed it over the middle to Harvin. Brock hit Harvin immediately, but it was good for a first and goal at the Auburn 5. Tebow slammed for 1, then fired incomplete on the slant. Jerraud Powers was flagged for interference, and it was thus first and goal at the two. Tebow went up the middle again, and was stopped hard by Josh Thompson. A second down Tebow carry was stuffed by Quentin Groves. The 3rd quarter clock ran out. Auburn still led, 17-3, but the Gators were threatening from the 1 yard line. A false start backed 'em up, but then Tebow found Cornelius Ingram on a crossing pattern for the TD. Ijjas' kick was good, and with 14:56 left in the game, Auburn led 17-10.
Patrick Lee handled the kickoff, and slashed out to the 33. After Tate's fumble, Fannin was back in. The Gators zeroed in, and Fannin was stopped after only a yard gain. Cox found Rod Smith on the sideline, just past the stake, for a new set of downs. Fannin lost two on first down, then it was twice Cox to Smith underneath, and those two short catches were good for another first down, at the Florida 44. AGAIN it was a first down run up the middle, and Fannin lost another yard. The Gators sent the blitz on 2nd and 3rd down, and both passes were incomplete. Ryan Shoemaker pooched the punt down to the Gator 11, where it was fair caught by Brandon James.
Trailing by a touchdown, the Gators ran right at a tiring Auburn defense. Tebow got 8, Harvin got 6. Tebow to James for 7, then Tebow for 9 more. The Gator surge looked unstoppable. Tebow to Murphy picked up 9, then Tebow plowed for 12, and a first down at the Auburn 38. Tebow went up top on first down, and got it deep to Percy Harvin, who made an acrobatic catch, and stepped out at the Auburn 6 yard line. Tebow slammed for 4, then 2, and into the end zone. Touchdown, Gators. Ijjas' PAT was good, and with 7:36 left in the game, it was all tied up at 17 apiece.
A short return by Patrick Lee started Auburn at the 20. Fannin sliced for 2, then Cox went back to the wheel route, and Carl Stewart picked up 18, out to the Tiger 40 for the first down. Fannin got another single yard, then Cox was sacked by Derrick Harvey. A third down pass fell incomplete, and with 5 minutes left in the game, Shoemaker was back in to punt it to the Gators. Showmaker's punt only went 38 yards, AND Auburn was flagged for interfering with the reception. That gave the Gators a first down at their own 42, with plenty of time.
Tim Tebow started with a slip-screen to Harvin that was well covered. Amazingly, Harvin tried to backpedal, reverse field, and juke defenders. SenDerrick Marks ripped Harvin down for a six yard loss, dooming the drive! An option to Moore was snowed under for nothing, by Chris Evans and Patrick Lee. Under duress, a short Tebow throw on 3rd down had no chance. Punter Chaz Henry was sent in, and responded with an ugly 25 yard shank out of bounds! Auburn took over at their own 39!
Even with only 3:38 left, the handoff to Ben Tate was predictable. It swept into the sideline for only a yard. Cox then fired on the slant to Rod Smith, caught, and Smith got the first down on the measurement. After a timeout, Auburn AGAIN ran Ben Tate up the middle on first down! One yard was all she wrote. Cox got it to Prechae Rodrigues for 6 on the hitch, bringing up a crucial 3rd and 3 at the Florida 43. Tate got the call, sweeping right, and Tate plowed for 5! Tate got the call two more times, churning for 8, then 1. On third and 1, Tate ground for 2. With the first down, Auburn ran Tate again to set the ball up at the 26. The Tigers ran the clock down to 3 seconds, before calling timeout. When play resumed, Auburn had it at the Gator 26. The field goal team lined it up, snapped it back, and Byrum's kick was away! Alas, Florida coach Urban Meyer had called timeout, just before the snap. Byrum's kick was long enough, and just shaved inside the right upright. But it didn't count! The true freshman kicker had to line it up, and try again. This time, Urban Meyer had no timeouts left, and Byrum rocketed the kick right down the middle! With NO time on the clock, the kick was GOOD! Auburn had beaten the 4th ranked Gators, in Gainesville, 20-17! Wes Byrum ran jubilantly off, performing the “Gator Chomp” for Urban Meyer!
The loss staggered the Gators. They lost in Baton Rouge 28-24 the following week, then survived a harrowing trip to Lexington two weeks after that. The Gators hung on to beat Kentucky 45-37, but Georgia then hung a 42-30 loss on Florida in Jacksonville. While Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy, a suspect Gator secondary cost them the chance for a championship. Following their third loss of the season in the Cocktail Party, Florida rebounded to finish 9-3, including a 45-12 beat-down over rival Florida State. In the Capital One Bowl, the whole defense collapsed, and Florida took a 41-35 loss to Michigan, to finish 9-4.
The victory over Florida turned Auburn's season around. The Tigers would bomb Vandy, then win a physical 9-7 contest in Fayetteville. Auburn held the dynamic duo of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones to under a hundred yards. Auburn started strong in Baton Rouge, but withered under a barrage of second-half offense, to fall to LSU. An even more complete meltdown in Athens sunk the Tigers to 7-4. Auburn limped home to face Alabama, and won their sixth in a row over the hated Crimson Tide! Immediately thereafter, Al Borges was out as offensive coordinator, and Tony Franklin was in. In just a couple of weeks, Franklin installed a spread offense, and Auburn defeated the 15th ranked Clemson Tigers in the Peach Bowl, in overtime, 23-20. Auburn finished 9-4, and great things were predicted for 2008.
Of course, we all know what happened in 2008. There were no Tuberville “Greatest Games.” A growing lack of quality depth, a rash of injuries, and an offense with no chemistry resulted in a death spiral, and the team crashed hard in a hideous 36-0 tank job in Tuscaloosa. Tommy Tuberville resigned, or at least that's the official story. While it's now obvious to all that the talent is not what it was in 2004, the Auburn cupboard is certainly not bare. Even in the controlled scrimmage displayed on A-Day, it was evident that Auburn still does have some talent, and playmakers. It's a tribute to the character Tuberville and his staff recruited, that none of these players have had any hint of off the field trouble, and that they've worked very hard for Coach Chizik and his staff. The vibe I'm getting is that these players are hungry! With good direction from a unified staff, Auburn might well be the surprise team of the league in 2009.