Here we go, getting down to the wire in the Countdown as we enter the Tommy Tuberville era. No matter the record, the regime under Tubs was never boring. Enjoy a look back at his first season, eighteen years ago, after a couple reviews of classic Auburn games.
2016 - Auburn 18, LSU 13
This one’s familiar. It’s probably still very fresh in your mind as it happened less than a year ago. Here are the quick notes on what happened: Auburn got six Daniel Carlson field goals and contained Leonard Fournette enough to limit LSU’s offense in the Hotseat Bowl.
The prevailing thought here was that whoever lost this game would not have a head coach the next morning. I didn’t think there was any way that Auburn would actually fire Gus Malzahn if he’d lost this one, but LSU apparently had its hand on the trigger for real.
In the final minute, LSU drove inside the Auburn red zone and had one play left to go for the win as the seconds ticked away. Check out this video from the sideline. The swing of emotion is incredible.
Danny Etling found DJ Chark in the corner for what appeared to be the walk-off touchdown, but there was something wrong. For one, LSU didn’t get the snap off in time, which the review would prove. In addition, multiple players were moving when the ball was snapped, and they hadn’t been set for the proper amount of time before snapping it either. Something had to give, and the clock was what the officiating crew chose to lean on. From the touchdown, to the review, to the reversal, to Auburn celebrating, this was one of the wilder endings in Jordan-Hare Stadium. It also started a six-game win streak for Auburn, and hope for this season as well.
1997 - Auburn 18, Alabama 17
We touched on this game a couple days ago, but Auburn entered the 1997 Iron Bowl with a chance to win its first ever West Division title and go to the SEC Championship.
Things looked bleak as the Tide jumped out to a 17-6 lead and Auburn looked hapless on its home field while everything stood on the line. They did pull within two at 17-15 thanks to a late Jarrett Holmes field goal, and then Alabama had one chance to ice the game with the ball and less than a minute remaining. Bama’s offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called a weird screen pass to the fullback Ed Scissum, and the rest is history.
18 Years Ago - 1999
After the 3-8 season in 1998, Auburn needed a new head coach. So, they looked westward and found their guy: Ole Miss head man Tommy Tuberville. Tubs had been courted by Auburn, but uttered the phrase “they’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box” in regard to other teams calling for his services.
Well, there was no pine box necessary, as two days later Tubs was the new leader of Auburn football.
If you read Rob Pate’s book, he describes the change in attitude from Bowden to Tuberville. The introduction of Yoxercise chief among the differences, Auburn’s players became much better conditioned and stronger as well.
One controversy that reared its head immediately, however, and cast a bit of embarrassment on the program before the start of the season. In February of 1999, with the opener for that season set to be against Florida State in Tallahassee, Auburn bought out the game for half a million dollars. Obviously, the attraction was going to be the first ever Bowden Bowl, with Terry vs Bobby, but that couldn’t happen after Terry left the Plains.
To be fair, the epic beatdown that Florida State probably would’ve put on Auburn in Tuberville’s first game would’ve been awful. Bobby likely blamed Auburn for the situation with Terry, rightfully or not, and wouldn’t have called off the dogs at all. They would’ve had the ability to name the score with what turned out to be a national championship team and a Heisman winner under center as well.
Instead, Auburn found Appalachian State to come play on the Plains for Tubs’ first game. Afterward, a good many people thought that it was probably for the best that we didn’t see the Seminoles in that opener, since there were definite kinks to work out.
App State wasn’t a bad 1-AA team by any stretch, but they were still 1-AA. Auburn should’ve blown them out easily, but instead a 22-15 win was all we’d see. Tied 15-15 late in the game, Ben Leard would find Ronney Daniels for a long touchdown in the last minute to give Auburn the win. People didn’t see the Tuberville experiment working out, at least after one game.
Game two against Idaho didn’t really assuage the fears either. Auburn built a 23-0 lead, but had to hold on as the Vandals posted 23 of their own in the final quarter. A Rusty Williams run provided the difference and Auburn escaped 30-23, with their record 2-0 but very shaky.
Then came Baton Rouge. This game is important for several reasons. One, it’s the last time Auburn won in Tiger Stadium. Eight trips since have all resulted in losses. Two, it was the coming out party for Ronney Daniels. And three, it became the source of consternation between the two fanbases for years since.
Auburn pounded the ever-loving hell out of the Bayou Bengals on their home field in what might have been the final nail for Gerry Dinardo. Thanks to razzle-dazzle plays all over, Auburn opened up a 34-0 lead and won 41-7 over LSU to grab the notice of some people around the country.
Les Miles can try to claim that kicker toss, but Tubs did it first. Also, the long catch-fumble-recovery-touchdown from Daniels is one of the silliest plays you’ll ever see, and probably the reason why Dinardo was fired. LSU couldn’t get out of its own way at the end of his time there, and this play encompasses so many reasons why.
Either way, Auburn won 41-7 and afterward did something that’s miffed LSU fans ever since. It’s provided fodder for the rivalry and has since been known as the Cigar Game, just one of the many monikers that contests between the two have been named.
Perhaps Auburn got a little too full of itself after that, because Tuberville’s old team came into town the next week and beat the old head coach 24-17, then the Tigers went to Knoxville and surrendered a pick-six on their first play in falling at Tennessee 24-0.
An absolutely tough stretch of the schedule continued, as Mississippi State then nipped Auburn 18-16, and not-very-close losses to Florida and Arkansas ended a five-game losing streak. Suddenly Auburn sat at 3-5, victims of karma after a little too much high-fiving and merrymaking in Death Valley.
We needed a pick-me-up. After beating UCF, the Tigers headed to Athens town.
Auburn doesn’t beat the stuffing out of Georgia very often, so it was very sweet heading into Athens on a chilly November night. Just watch this whole video and enjoy the lobs from Ben Leard to Daniels as if he was a high-schooler playing against third-graders.
38-21 was the final score, but there were very few Georgia fans in attendance to see the Bulldogs’ points in the second half. Leard to Daniels emptied the stadium well before halftime.
So, Auburn was 5-5 with the Iron Bowl coming up, and for the first time in a few years, Alabama was actually pretty good. The Tide were in line to win the West, even though they had lost to Louisiana Tech again.
Just like in 1998, Auburn jumped on top early. The Tigers led 14-6 at halftime thanks to two touchdown tosses from Leard, and they still held a 14-8 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Then the floodgates opened and Shaun Alexander started running wild. Auburn couldn’t find any offense in the second half, while Alexander ran through a tired Tiger defense for three fourth quarter touchdowns. Bama took a 28-17 win and advanced to the SEC Championship Game while Auburn’s year ended at 5-6, but with a couple of promising performances late to hopefully send them into the offseason feeling alright.
They’d capitalize the next season as Tuberville began to find his footing.
Coming Next: Auburn Goes to Atlanta Again, Y2K Bugs Hit Bama’s Team