Welcome to part 2 of our ongoing series remembering The Streak. Today, we relive an unforgettable play from a season both teams would rather forget.
As the headline picture shows, both teams entered this game outside of the top 25. Something that has happened only 7 times since the series was renewed, only 3 times since Auburn hired Pat Dye in 1981, and hasn’t happened since*. Sure there have been seasons where one team or the other has fell a bit flat, but it’s truly rare for both teams to struggle in the same season.
2003 was really the hallmark of the “Auburn struggles when everyone thinks they’ll be good” theory. Auburn was returning a ton of starters from a team that got hot down the stretch in 2002. Unfortunately, the departure of Bobby Petrino meant that Hugh Nall became Offensive Coordinator with Steve Ensminger, the new quarterbacks coach, as the actual play-caller. The entire situation was a mess, and the Tigers didn’t score a touchdown until the second quarter of game 3. They were able to rebound slightly with a couple of wins over top 10 teams in Tennessee and Arkansas during a 5 game winning streak, but bottomed out by losing 3 of 4 to LSU, Ole Miss, and Georgia.
Meanwhile, Alabama was reeling from losing Dennis Franchione after the 2002 season, continued scholarship losses due to NCAA violations, and the Mike Price debacle that resulted in his termination in May of 2003. Mike Shula, who had never been a head coach at any level, nor had he coached anywhere except the NFL, became Alabama’s head coach. While Alabama played several teams close, falling by 8 points or less to 4 of the 5 ranked teams on their schedule, the Tide limped into the Iron Bowl at 4-7 and 2-5 in the SEC.
Alabama wins the toss and defers their choice to the second half. Their opening kickoff results in a touchback.
Auburn starts the game with a classic I-formation with 21 personnel. The top WR, Ben Obomanu, is aligned close to the formation so that he can block a player in the middle of the field.
The call is a lead draw play. As much criticism as the dreaded “Nallsminger” offense received in 2003, and it was very often deserved, this is a great playcall against Alabama’s 4-3 Under front. Alabama is going to be aggressive to start the game. They really have no reason to hold anything back, given their record and Auburn’s talent.
Four of the five offensive linemen retreat into a pass blocking look. Only Monreko Crittenden (RIP buddy) charges out to take the WLB. FB Brandon Johnson will handle the MLB, and TE Cooper Wallace handles the SLB. Both safeties backs off when they see the offensive line retreat. Williams has a solid hole and an easy 8 to 10 yards.
Here is where we see 3 things that will bust this play wide open:
- Cooper Wallace has driven the SLB several yards downfield and will eventually knock him into the playside CB.
- Rather than block the CB in front of him, WR Jeris McIntyre moves up to block the play-side safety.
- Carnell Williams is one of the best running backs I’ve ever seen. McIntyre’s move to block the play-side safety means the two unblocked players are the two cornerbacks. The back-side corner will be further from the play, and the play-side corner is, in theory, the weakest tackler to that side of the field. What really sets it off is Williams’s vision and agility. He plants his left foot at the 26 to get the CB to commit, then cuts right past him and around Wallace’s block. Wallace eventually drives his man to the ground, and he even takes a trailing linebacker with him for good measure.
Now it is the two safeties against a blocking Jeris McIntyre and a full-speed Carnell Williams. The linebackers won’t really be able to catch him. McIntyre has even managed to block the play-side safety right into the path of the back-side corner Anthony Madison. 9 yards later…
One defender is on the ground, and he’ll force Madison to adjust his angle. All that’s left? Go Crazy Cadillac.
When the Kick 6 happened, there were specific moments where an impossibly loud crowd got louder: the kick was short, Davis cut left to the sideline, Davis got past the holder along the sideline, then everyone realized he was gone. There was a similar progression here: Caddy had a first down, then Caddy had twenty, then? We went crazy.
60% of Auburn’s first five plays in this game scored points: this play, a safety on first down after an Alabama 3-and-out, and a 62-yard touchdown pass to Ben Obomanu on third down after another stop. Auburn would lead 18-2 at halftime, but even that wasn’t as bad as it should have been. Cooper Wallace randomly dropped the football as he was rumbling to the endzone, then Campbell threw an interception in the endzone at the end of the first half. Alabama would get two quick scores in the 3rd quarter to cut the deficit, but Auburn bounced back with a field goal and another Williams touchdown. Alabama scored with 63 seconds left to get the lead under 10, since apparently that’s the rule, but touched the ensuing onside kick too early, allowing Auburn to kneel out the victory.
Carnell Williams finally finished an Iron Bowl, and he did it in style. He finished with 204 yards and 2 TDs on 26 carries, one of only 3 players I can think of that have run for over 200 yards in an Iron Bowl**. He even had a 25-yard punt return and a 20-yard kick return for good measure.
JetGate would break during the Thanksgiving break the next week. Tommy Tuberville managed to keep his job after Auburn fans denounced the way he was treated in the process, and the Tigers beat Wisconsin 28-14 in the Music City Bowl to finish 8-5. Alabama finished 4-9 after losing their pseudo-bowl game at Hawaii. The 2003 season would be mostly forgettable, but this one play stands out to this day.
*-years neither were ranked according to Auburn: 1948, 1949, 1951, 1956, 1982, 1998, and 2003.
**- Bo Jackson (256 in 1983) and Derrick Henry (271 in 2015) are the others. Hit up the comments if I forgot one.