And we’ve reached the new millennium in our Countdown to Kickoff! Essentially, the modern era of Auburn football, if you will. Along with the change to Tommy Tuberville the year before, a bunch of other SEC schools would find new coaches around the turn of the century and usher in a new and exciting time in SEC football as a whole. There’s a lot to get to today, so enjoy.
2010 - Auburn 17, Mississippi State 14
Game two in the 2010 national championship run! Auburn had dismantled Arkansas State in the opener and went to Starkville for a Thursday night matchup with Dan Mullen and Mississippi State. It turned out to be the Tigers’ second-worst offensive output of the year with just 348 yards total, but they did just enough (and perhaps got a little lucky as well) to snag a key early-season road win.
Cam Newton threw two early touchdown passes and we saw the coming out party for Nick Fairley as the Tigers bested a Bulldog team that turned out to be pretty good in the end. Fairley notched five tackles with 1.5 sacks and 2.5 TFLs, plus an interception for an Aundray Bruce-esque defensive performance, and as MSU tried to drive for the tie or win late, they were the victim of a crucial drop deep in Auburn territory that would’ve put them right in position for the tying field goal.
The game itself wasn’t too exciting, as Auburn’s offense hadn’t figured out what it did well yet, but it gave the team the road experience in the 17-14 win and set them on the path to greatness.
2007 - Auburn 17, Alabama 10
We covered this game in our look back at the 2007 season a couple weeks ago, but for a game between two not-great teams, it was one of the more exciting stadium experiences I’ve been a part of.
Set for a night kick, the first Iron Bowl of Bama’s Nick Saban era elicited an electric atmosphere from everyone in Auburn as it was played after Thanksgiving for the first time in some years.
I remember settling into the student section very early and watching Tiger Walk on the Jumbotron, and after the national anthem, fighter jets flew under the low cloud ceiling with full afterburner, shaking the stadium and igniting the crowd. Just when you thought it couldn’t reach a higher pitch, Bo Jackson tore onto the field right before kickoff and pumped things up even more.
The game wasn’t much to write home about. Auburn led 10-0 after the first quarter and 10-7 at halftime, finally going ahead 17-7 in the third on a short Brandon Cox sneak for a score. Bama cut the margin down to a touchdown in the fourth, but Brad Lester’s 4th down run to ice things in the final minute might have been the actual most exciting play of the night as he kept going through Bama’s defense to give Auburn the opportunity for the victory formation.
The Tigers knelt down and got their sixth win in a row over Alabama.
2002 - Auburn 17, Alabama 7
So you just read about the end of the streak, and now you get to see the start of the streak. Looking back, this is an underrated Iron Bowl performance by the Tigers as they absolutely whipped a top ten Alabama team at home.
Let’s set the stage. Auburn was 7-4 coming in, with close losses to Southern Cal, Florida, and Georgia, and the usual Tuberville head-scratcher at home to Arkansas. No matter, since that Florida loss, the Tigers had made the switch at quarterback, going with Jason Campbell full-time, and Ronnie Brown had been a beast in place of the injured Cadillac Williams.
Except that coming into this game, Brown was injured. So was Brandon Johnson, the Tigers’ ace run-blocker at fullback. Things didn’t look good against a Tide team that ran the option well, and had some solid choices at tailback. Bama was on probation for the Albert Means scandal, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t beat you on the field. The Tide’s only losses so far were to Oklahoma and Georgia, both teams that would make BCS bowl games.
Leading up to this game, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Bama would have a pretty easy time, and all the Auburn fans I knew had to be cautiously optimistic when talking about it. Dennis Franchione even neglected to call Auburn “Auburn”, instead settling for “The School Down the Road.” The Bama message boards were confident. Chalk it up for the Tide.
Yes. Chalk it up.
Man, the hype after this game was something else. It led to a very satisfying offseason as well, maybe to satisfying, as we spent too much time patting ourselves on the back and thinking about the inevitable national championship coming in 2003. About that...
1972 - Auburn 17, Alabama 16
And we’ve finally arrived. It’s possibly the most famous moment in Auburn history that was only eclipsed by the Kick Six some 41 years later.
Just like 2002, Auburn had a good team, but in 1972 it was much more surprising. Losing two of your team’s three retired numbers will lower the expectations a bit, as the Tigers were now without Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan and his beloved target Terry Beasley.
Still, they’d pretty much run through the schedule unscathed. The only defeat was a 35-7 loss in Baton Rouge, but Auburn entered the game at 8-1, while Alabama came in 9-0 and roaring. The Tide’s closest win had been a 17-10 affair against Tennessee, while no other wins were by less than fourteen points. And were they ever yapping beforehand...
The Birmingham news quoted Bear Bryant as saying “I’d rather beat the cow college than beat Texas 10 times,” several days before the game.
Famous. Last. Words.
The arrogance of Bear Bryant lost this game. If you notice in the video above, you see Greg Gantt not nearly fifteen yards back (more like ten) from the line of scrimmage as punters usually stand. That gave Auburn five less yards to go to block both kicks. The reason he stood much closer to the line? Bryant wanted him to have a higher net punting average. Oops.
As for that quote about beating Texas ten times? Alabama went to the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day and Texas beat them too. Auburn finished 10-1 after demolishing Colorado in the Gator Bowl, but sadly Punt Bama Punt became the final Auburn Iron Bowl win of the decade, as Bama strung together a nine-game win streak in the series.
It was still a good one to go out on.
17 Years Ago - 2000
Now here we reach year two of the Tommy Tuberville era at Auburn!
The Tigers did not begin 2000 ranked, while across the state Alabama was getting ready for an assured national title, as they were 3rd in the polls to begin the new millennium.
Auburn had gone out west to recruit the junior colleges and found some quarterback named Daniel Cobb and a thick, bruising running back called Rudi Johnson.
The Tigers began the year at home on a Thursday night against Wyoming, and the nation would come to know Rudi after that game.
With that run icing the game, Johnson capped a great performance in which he ran for 174 yards and three touchdowns in his orange and blue debut, kickstarting the Tigers for the first half of the season.
He duplicated the effort in the second week of the season as Tuberville headed to Oxford for the first time since his Pine Box comments, and the Tigers escaped Ole Miss 35-27 with Johnson going for 165 and two touchdowns. The Auburn offense was clicking and things looked really good as Tuberville’s system seemed like it had taken hold.
So, at 2-0 and flying high, in came the revenge-minded LSU Tigers a year after getting dominated at home by Auburn. They’d hired some mediocre coach from Michigan State or somewhere named Nick Saban to run things, and he had the Bayou Bengals at 2-0 coming to the Plains. And they seemed like revenge was just what the doctor ordered.
LSU jumped out 10-0, but Auburn recovered and put up twenty straight as we hit the third quarter. Josh Booty hit future Biletnikoff winner Josh Reed for the second long touchdown of the game, and then momentum completely swung the way of the home team.
Look at that bucket hat around 1:22 in this video. So 2000s.
Anyway, Auburn won 34-17, improving to 3-0, and then beating Northern Illinois and Vanderbilt next to run the mark to 5-0.
Then came one of the more inexplicable performances in Auburn history.
The Tigers headed to Starkville to tangle with Mississippi State and just got manhandled. In by far the worst offensive game of the year, Auburn mustered just 164 total yards, eighteen on the ground, and lost 17-10. Then they went and got blasted at Florida by Rex Grossman. Grossman threw five touchdown passes and the Gators led 35-7 at halftime, winning 38-7 in the end.
It would be time to regroup, so Auburn took down a middle-of-the-road Arkansas team 21-19 and then beat Jim Donnan’s last Georgia team 29-26 in overtime thanks to a Ben Leard sneak at the end before turning their attention to the Iron Bowl. Auburn entered the game at 8-2, so this promised to be a pretty good matchup. If you remember, I mentioned that Bama started the season ranked third in the country, and that they were supposed to—
Oh yeah, Bama completely imploded, getting thrashed in their opener by UCLA, getting shut out by Southern Miss, losing to UCF, and came into the Iron Bowl 3-7.
Still, the Iron Bowl is usually a close matchup, and the weather at Bryant-Denny that day would keep it close.
With the game being played in Tuscaloosa for the first time in roughly a century, Auburn came in trying to break a two-game losing streak to the Tide, and they would do so in a rainy, muddy, cold slugfest. No touchdowns were scored, Auburn got Damon Duval field goals in the first, second, and fourth quarters and won 9-0.
Rudi Johnson ran for 130 yards in the win, just five less than Bama’s total offensive output (they were bad). Either way, the victory gave Auburn its second SEC West crown and sent them to Atlanta to play the same Florida team that raked them over the coals in Gainesville earlier in the season.
I wish I could say that there was a redemption story for the Tigers in Atlanta, but there wasn’t. Grossman threw another four touchdown passes and the Gators won the SEC in Spurrier’s next-to-last season (we’d get him the next year), sending Auburn instead to the Citrus Bowl to meet Michigan.
The Wolverines got ahead early and Auburn never really threatened on New Year’s Day. Always one step behind, the Tigers fell 31-28, with Deandre Green scoring in the final three minutes to make it look a lot closer than it was. However, the year ended up being a good one for Tommy Tuberville’s second on the Plains. Another SEC West crown (we’d get a title someday) and the SEC Player of the Year award for Rudi Johnson made it a successful season overall.
Auburn just had to get over that hump and win the dang thing in Atlanta.
Coming Next: A Kid Named Cadillac