Eleven days until kickoff — goodness, it’s coming quickly. Today we’re going to harken back to 2006, a year that started off with great expectations...
And ended with the Tigers watching a team that they’d beaten claim the national title.
But first, has Auburn ever won a game while scoring eleven points? Yep. A long time ago.
Coincidentally, two of them came in 1911. Auburn beat Mississippi State 11-5 and the took out Georgia Tech 11-6 later that season. This all came a couple years after an 11-0 shutout over Samford in 1909. Scoring eleven points is pretty uncommon. So...
11 Years Ago - 2006
2006 opened as well as any season of Auburn football has in the past quarter-century. Auburn started the year ranked fourth in the AP poll, behind Ohio State, Notre Dame, and defending champ Texas, and the Tigers had a ton back from a pretty good team. Brandon Cox was back for his second year at quarterback, Kenny Irons returned at tailback after a huge 2005 season, and the defense had a ton of continuity as well. Things were shaping up for 2006 to give Auburn the end result it missed out on two years prior.
The Tigers opened with Washington State at home, a team that had been good a few years earlier under Mike Price (LOL) but had fallen off as of late. Auburn came out and looked good on both sides of the ball, cruising to a 40-14 victory over the Cougars. Kenny Irons rolled for 183 yards and a long touchdown and all was right for a while.
After that, Auburn rolled Mississippi State 34-0, but Kenny Irons suffered an ankle sprain that would hamper the offense moving forward. The Tigers ran for just 111 yards on 36 carries against the Bulldogs, which caused some concern looking back.
Either way, Auburn sat at 2-0 and #3 in the polls after Ohio State beat Texas. Now standing in the Tigers’ way were the Bayou Bengals of LSU, who were coming in with future top overall pick Jamarcus Russell leading the offense.
What followed turned out to be the most smashmouth game of football I’ve witnessed in person inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. LSU scored its only points of the day on a Colt David field goal as the first half expired, and Brandon Cox surged across the goal line early in the third quarter to give Auburn a 7-3 lead. After that it was advancement after advancement, but nothing else broke.
Both offenses broke like water upon rock time and again as each team’s defense found impenetrable footholds in the southern sod. Auburn gained just 182 yards but made them count, while the defense gave ground to LSU but never broke.
What also happened was one of the most controversial plays in memory as Jamarcus Russell tried to go deep on a 4th down with less than three minutes to play, but the ball was batted away at the last moment by Eric Brock inside the Auburn ten. The intended receiver had also been sort of driven along by Zach Gilbert, which drew a pass interference flag from the official right behind the play.
Then, the referee waived it off.
To be fair, if I was an LSU fan, I’d be mad. I’d howl. I’d be livid. They announced the penalty on the field and then just took it away. As an Auburn fan sitting in the western stands, I remember thinking that LSU’s final shot had just slipped away. Auburn was going to win this game.
Of course, in true Auburn fashion, we couldn’t just enjoy a nice easy win at the end. Of course our offense didn’t move the ball at all. Of course they couldn’t net the one first down necessary to kneel out the clock, and LSU got one more shot with 73 seconds to play and 80 yards to go.
They’d get close. As close as possible, but Eric Brock knocked the stuffing out of Craig Davis as he caught the final pass three yards short of the goal line and Auburn escaped 7-3. Meanwhile, several states north, Michigan was bombing away on Notre Dame, who was one of two teams ahead of Auburn in the polls. The Wolverines dropped the Irish in a big way, and before we knew it, Auburn sat at #2 the following afternoon.
However, the war against LSU had taken its toll. Kenny Irons still had a sprained ankle, and Brandon Cox had been beaten to hell and back. I remember a nasty picture of his leg floating around the web showing his giant bruise that momentarily took him out of the game against LSU.
A get-right game couldn’t come soon enough, and so Auburn lazily slapped around Buffalo the next week, giving Brad Lester his first extensive work out of the backfield. It set up a Thursday night meeting with South Carolina in Columbia, a place where the Tigers needed to watch since the Head Ball Coach certainly had revenge on his mind after Auburn gave him his worst loss ever the year before.
In a very classic Tuberville game, the Tigers scored first against the Gamecocks, built a 14-3 lead, and then worked whenever they needed afterward. In a bit of a different twist, this game did feature something that I’d never seen before and have never seen since.
Auburn received the second-half kickoff and took a lengthy eight-minutes-plus drive to kick a short John Vaugh field goal as they took a 17-10 lead. Then, Tuberville pulled out the old Gambler hat he’d been hiding. He called for the onside kick. It worked.
South Carolina’s defense had to trot right back out on the field after just defending for nearly nine minutes. Auburn would take the ball and move right down the field, reaching the goal line as the third quarter expired. The Tigers held the ball for an entire quarter, irking Steve Spurrier to the max. Kenny Irons plunged in for a score on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Auburn a 24-10 lead that seemed safe.
Still, Spurrier decided to work out his frustration in that final period, giving Auburn one heck of a scare by pulling within a touchdown and reaching the red zone in the final minute, but the Gamecocks couldn’t get the equalizer and the Tigers escaped again.
The next week, we met someone who’d have a profound effect on Auburn’s future.
Yeah, that’s Gus Malzahn. In a pretty empty Jordan-Hare Stadium. Wearing Arkansas gear. After beating Auburn.
The Hogs were pretty good in 2006. They had Darren McFadden back for another year, and a new offensive coordinator. Some high school guy. He’d been hired pretty much so that the Razorbacks could sign his high school quarterback Mitch Mustain out of Springdale.
USC blasted Arkansas in the opener, but they’d won every game since and came into Auburn for the dreaded 11 AM sleepwalk. I knew it from the time I sat down in the stands. Everyone was asleep. The players weren’t fired up, the crowd was hungover, it just seemed slow. And when Auburn tried to run the famous Al Borges halfback pass and it got snowed under, Arkansas realized that the Tigers thought they were a high school team. The Hogs decided to prove otherwise.
Mustain completed a pass to the lanky Marcus Monk, wherein he broke a tackle and scampered 50 yards for a score right into the students, and then McFadden sprinted right through the Tiger defense for a long touchdown right before halftime, and I knew we were sunk. Later in the game, just for kicks, Malzahn ran the short-guy-play, where a diminutive receiver crouches behind the line and takes a sneaky handoff with the defense unaware.
Oh, it worked. Reggie Fish. Never forget his name. I remember thinking that this might be the first actual downturn of the Tuberville regime, as Arkansas set this play up right in front of the Auburn sideline, and nobody seemed to care or want to do anything about it. Fish nearly scored, and the Razorbacks secured the win with an insurance touchdown right after. 27-10, Hogs. The #2 team in the country went down.
Auburn dropped to #11 after that, but maybe it was the wakeup call that the Tigers needed. Now, the 2nd-ranked team in the country was Florida, and surprise, surprise, the Gators were visiting Auburn the very next week.
Everyone remembers the whipping they’d eventually put on Ohio State for the national title, but that Florida team wasn’t that overpowering during the regular season. They were just good enough not to lose more than was allowed.
By all accounts, and possibly up until the Kick Six, this was the loudest Jordan-Hare had been under Tuberville. The Gator offense clicked all throughout the first half, never even reaching third down because they moved down the field so quickly. Still, Auburn’d defense held them pretty well and the Tigers trailed just 17-11 at halftime.
Legend has it that Tubs gave the team quite an earful at halftime (you know, a paint-peeler) and they came out fired up for the third quarter. The crowd reached its breaking point right about the time Quentin Groves set up the biggest play of the game.
Auburn upended #2 Florida, and climbed right back into the top ten. Thankfully, the Tigers could afford to rest a bit with Tulane coming in the next week, and Auburn fans got a look at a freshman tailback named Ben Tate as he carved up the Green Wave for 156 yards in an easy win.
The Tigers were nearly tripped up by Ole Miss after that, winning 23-17 in Oxford, but a 27-0 victory over Arkansas State after that put Auburn at 9-1 and #5 in the country when Georgia came to town.
Now, this Georgia team had lost DJ Shockley and was starting Matthew Stafford, a highly-regarded but inexperience freshman. They’d lost four of five and hadn’t won a game against anyone of consequence all year. It was at 11 AM, but c’mon. Auburn still had a shot at the West and a backdoor shot at the BCS National Championship if it could win the league.
Nope. Brandon Cox reverted back the first game he ever started and threw four interceptions. It rained. It was cold. Tra Battle snagged three of those picks and Auburn trailed 30-7 at halftime. The Georgia band was much louder than Auburn’s, and I was sitting literally equidistant from each one. Pudgy Matt Stafford scampered through Auburn’s defense for a late touchdown, and that was that. Cox’s line for the day? 4-12, 33 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTS. That’s a passer rating of 18.7. Nope.
With Auburn’s shot at another SEC title dashed, as Arkansas now had a two-game lead on the Tigers in the division, there was only the Iron Bowl. Just don’t lose to Alabama and break the four-game win streak.
I don’t remember much about that Iron Bowl except that it was a typical, low-scoring Tubervillian affair with the Tide. Auburn was much more talented and so much better coached, but still trailed 15-14 into the late stages of the third quarter. Brandon Cox finally found Prechae Rodriguez for a jump ball touchdown that put the Tigers on top for good and Auburn won 22-15. Auburn gained just 261 yards and did the score early, fall behind, score late when you need it affair that became so commonplace in the late Tuberville years.
With a 10-2 regular season, you’d think things would be hunky-dory. Not really. After starting the year ranked so highly, Auburn was in contention for exactly zero championships of any kind. Not a division or conference title, let alone something on the national stage.
Auburn earned a bid to the Cotton Bowl to play Nebraska, but this wasn’t the type of game that drew your attention like it would have several decades before. The Huskers in Dallas should’ve been a huge bowl matchup, but Nebraska had staggered under Bill Callahan, and the game was another low-scoring and close, if offensively-challenged contest.
The Tigers notched a John Vaugh field goal midway through the third for a 17-14 lead, and nobody scored after that. Auburn won the Cotton Bowl. Auburn beat Nebraska. Auburn had won eleven games. Auburn had beaten Alabama. And when Florida hosed Ohio State in the national championship, Auburn had beaten the national champs. So why did it feel so empty?
Coming Next: Tuberville’s Slide