We’re officially down to single digits in the Countdown to Kickoff, and today’s entry is another lesson in humility that we as Auburn fans have come to know exceptionally well. We’ll have a couple of good nuggets to remember before we get to the end of an era that happened in 2008.
2000 - Auburn 9, Alabama 0
Again, this was one of those times when Auburn had a much better team than Alabama and could only muster a slim win. Yes, the weather had a profound effect on the game, but the rushing attack with Rudi Johnson should’ve been able to at least put a touchdown on the board. Rudi finished with just a few yards less on the ground than the entire offensive output from the Crimson Tide.
Auburn’s season was pretty good in Tuberville’s second year on the Plains, while Alabama’s was... the opposite. The Tide began the year ranked third in the country, but early losses to UCLA and Southern Miss totally put the season in the dumper. Bama limped into the Iron Bowl at 3-7. The game was played at Bryant-Denny for the first time in nearly a century, and that must have helped out Bama’s mojo a bit.
The game was close-fought, but in the end, Auburn’s run game was too much, the weather too wet and cold, and Alabama wishing for the end of the line under Mike Dubose. Auburn won 9-0 and headed to play Florida in a rematch for the SEC Championship. Bama headed to the yellow pages for a new coach.
1983 - Auburn 9, Michigan 7
Oh, this should have been the one. This should’ve been the game that broke the streak between national championships for Auburn. Instead, we wandered in the desert for 53 years when it should’ve been half that.
The Tigers went into bowl season and the Sugar Bowl at 10-1 and ranked third in the country. Their opponent? Bo Schembechler’s Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan led for nearly the entire game as Auburn lost three fumbles, but two Al Del Greco field goals pulled the Tigers within a point at 7-6.
Del Greco’s final field goal gave Auburn the lead at 9-7 and for a few minutes, the joyous thought that maybe they’d won a national championship. Georgia had beaten #2 Texas (the only team that had beaten Auburn) in the Cotton Bowl, and #5 Miami was on the way to upsetting top-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
Of course, we know what happened. Miami won and leapfrogged Auburn all the way to #1. Nebraska finished second and Auburn stayed put at #3. The Tigers would have to wait another 27 years for the elusive national championship.
9 Years Ago - 2008
Here’s where it all went wrong for Tuberville. Ten years in, and a couple of wrong staff moves (coupled with something brewing across the state) ended one of the most successful tenures in Auburn history.
The Tigers opened the year with high expectations again after the win in the Chick Fila Bowl the season before. Tony Franklin had been hired to replace Al Borges and his offense had rolled up the season’s best output and beaten Clemson with just a few practices to get it right. We were sure that things were going to be unstoppable with it in 2008. Players were quoted as saying “if we get a couple first downs, we’ll be going so fast they won’t be able to stop us.”
Auburn opened the year with pretty easy victories over Louisiana-Monroe and Southern Miss. Against USM, turnovers made things a bit more difficult, but overall, Auburn was 2-0 before SEC play started and ranked 9th in the country. Then we went for our first conference game of the year into the cowbell hell that is Starkville, Mississippi.
It’s really hard to understand how mind-bogglingly weird this game turned out to be. Despite the fact that Auburn led by three points, and then one point, there was never a doubt in my mind that we’d win. Mississippi State was somehow even more inept on offense than we were, and I knew they’d never be able to put one in the end zone, let alone get close enough to even attempt a field goal.
Auburn won, 3-2. What? The defense was sensational, holding the Bulldogs to just 116 yards and zero points. Auburn scored all five points, including the safety earned by a holding penalty in the end zone.
The Tigers dropped a couple spots in the polls, but things were still all on tap if they could just keep winning. Well, that didn’t happen. Auburn lost to LSU the next week 26-21 after Brandon Lafell scored a late touchdown and the lost Auburn attack couldn’t muster an answer in the final minute. Auburn actually led 14-3 at halftime, but allowed 23 second-half points in the loss.
After that, a slim win over Phil Fulmer’s final Tennessee team kept the Tigers in a pretty good position, but we hadn’t seen the offense that was supposed to happen.
Tony Franklin had talked about getting the offensive linemen to lose weight. No. At a time when Nick Saban was stockpiling every single giant nuclear athlete to make Alabama into a steamroller of a football squad, shedding weight to bebop around the Tide was NOT the answer. We didn’t see that at the time. We figured that Auburn would be able to do what they did to Clemson all throughout the SEC. We also weren’t sure of how quickly and efficiently Saban would get Alabama to the level he did.
Anyway, Auburn still held a 4-1 record after beating Tennessee, but the offense had barely broken 200 yards in the win over the Vols. Next up, another offender from the northern border.
Here’s where it got off the rails. If you can imagine, College Gameday actually went to Nashville as Auburn visited undefeated Vanderbilt.
Again, Auburn put up barely 200 yards, blew a two touchdown lead, and lost to Vanderbilt 14-13. Auburn lost to Vanderbilt. For the first time... in about fifty years.
The next week, a weak Arkansas team beat Auburn by three at home. Auburn gained just 193 yards on offense. The Tigers had lost two straight.
Tuberville vouched for the job status of Tony Franklin, but it didn’t matter. He was gone. The Tigers had a tough road trip up ahead, but a chance to make things a little more right and possibly salvage the season with a solid finish. They were heading to Morgantown for the first half of a home and home with West Virginia. Things again started out really, really well.
Kodi Burns got the start in place of Chris Todd and the new old power offense stunned the Mountaineers in the first half. Auburn jumped out to a 17-3 lead, but things sputtered when the Tigers tried to go for broke with a trick play that failed miserably. West Virginia got back in the game thanks to the shifty running of Internet superstar Noel Devine. He racked up more than 200 yards on the ground and Auburn fell on the road 34-17.
A trip to Oxford after that ended with another low-scoring affair. Auburn lost 17-7 to the Rebels, despite Kodi Burns throwing for more than 300 yards. All of a sudden, the Tigers had lost four straight and were in danger of a losing season at 4-5 with three games to go.
In came the required late season slaughter over a directional school, but Auburn would have to struggle a bit to beat UT-Martin, who essentially served as the Bizarro version of the Tigers. Auburn wore white at home in a rare move, as the Skyhawks sported the burnt orange that Auburn made famous.
Auburn won 37-20, but led just 27-20 at the start of the fourth quarter. Kodi Burns set a record for rushing by a quarterback in a single game with 158 yards on the ground. The Tigers reached five wins, but now had to face off against the preseason number one in Georgia, or the current number one in Alabama.
With little to play for, Auburn went punch-for-punch with Georgia, taking an early lead and losing it late (like most of the season) in falling 17-13, which set up the type of Iron Bowl the Bama fans across the state had been yearning for for the better part of the decade.
The Tigers still had a six-game win streak over the Tide, and Auburn’s defense was good enough to keep Auburn in the game if they could somehow muddy things up. With a little help, springing the ultimate upset wasn’t totally out of the question...
In Tuscaloosa, gameday dawned cold and wet and gray, perfect conditions if the Tigers were going to try to keep things nice and close. And they did, for a while.
Auburn trailed just 3-0 after one quarter, and 10-0 as halftime neared. Kodi Burns got the offense in position for a late field goal, but it doinked off the upright as the half ended and all hope was lost. The Tide rolled up the score in the second half, throwing deep late to rub it in. Auburn lost 36-0. Tuberville was out of a job not long after.
Tubs’ run ended after ten seasons, one SEC Championship, two SEC West titles, and the longest winning streak Auburn ever had over Alabama. For the first time this millennium, Auburn would conduct a head coach search. Who would take over? The options were endless.
Coming Next: “We Want a Leader, not a Loser!”