Auburn fans peer from beneath blankets as they watch their team lose to Kentucky on a cold October night.
October 17th, 2009, I sat with my wife in a bone chilling wind in Jordan-Hare Stadium staring at the score board in disbelief, UK 21- AU 14. It was the first defeat Auburn had surrendered to Kentucky in the previous 15 meetings. The team and the fans were left wondering what had just happened. No loss last year, left as bad a taste in my mouth as the Kentucky game. Consequently, I've had October ninth circled on my calendar for 12 months. I just knew Auburn was the better team and now this Saturday the Tigers have a chance for a do over.
That night had started out well enough when Jake Ricks blocked a field goal attempt with the ball being picked up by Neiko Thorpe and returned 69 yards for a touchdown. However, after a big loss to Arkansas the week before, Auburn's offense came out flat and seemed to be snake bitten.
The Tiger offense was noted for it's misdirection but on that night the only misdirection was coming from the cold swirling wind and Auburn couldn't seem to get anything going. Despite Ben Tate gaining 132 yards, the offense never really got in sync. Although Auburn led 14-7 at half time, the score was as precarious as it was misleading.
The second half was colder than the first half with wind chills dipping in to the low 30's. Yet Kentucky came out hungry and heated things up for the Cats. For me it appeared the stars seemed to be aligned in UK's favor. Either that or the Tigers experienced some of the worst officiating ever in Jordan-Hare. Because when Auburn had the ball and began to get something going, a flag was thrown to kill the momentum.
In commenting about preparing for this Saturday's game, Coach Gene Chizik said that the Tigers are not affected by the way last year's game unfolded. Nevertheless, it's not clear that's the way the players view it. D-back T'Sharvin Bell for example has been quoted as saying the game "left a sour taste in my mouth."
Well the Tigers had their chances, but from where I sat, it appeared Kentucky was being treated like they had the home field advantage. Auburn was penalized 10 times-eight in the second half. Kentucky was never penalized despite several obvious infractions. When can anyone remember a road team that got zero (that's "O") penalties? It just doesn't happen. That was the most sickening I have ever felt at a home game over the officiating.
On one play the UK quarterback was chased for a big loss and sacked, ending a Kentucky drive ... only to see a flag give them the ball back. UK scored a couple of plays later against an out of gas defense. On offense there was no better example of Auburn's struggles than the 4th quarter drive that saw hard running by Ben Tate and a 37 yard pass reception by Darvin Adams negated by flags. Auburn had a total of six penalties on that drive. Some were valid,some were not.
Fast forward to today. Facing UK this season has to be different for the Tigers than when the Wildcats came into Jordan-Hare last year to face a team that was coming off a big loss. In contrast, this year Auburn had a tune up game against the University of Louisiana Monroe. And what a tune up it was.
On the second play from scrimmage Onterio McCaleb swept around the end and scampered 50 yards for a score. Then on the fourth play from scrimmage, CamNewton hit Emory Blake for a 94 yard touchdown strike and the route was on. There was no nail biting last Saturday; the game was a blow out from the beginning. It had quite a different ending than Auburn's last three cliffhangers. So much so that Coach Chizik said "It was a very bizarre feeling."
Now I know that Kentucky is no ULM. The Wildcats are a decent SEC team with two very dangerous offensive weapons in Wide Receiver / QB Randall Cobb, who is among the SEC leaders in offensive production and Tailback Derrick Locke who leads the league in touchdowns.
Nevertheless, I'm hoping the Tigers give the coach that same bizare feeling this Saturday in Lexington. The feeling that he had at the end of the ULM game - of knowing the contest is really over before the last minutes of the game.
After 12 months, I still believe Auburn was a better team than Kentucky. I'm not looking for revenge though, as sweet as that might taste. Vindication...is what I'm seeking.