We’re LESS than a week until Auburn football kicks off the 2017 season, so let’s get right to what happened six years ago on the sixth day before Georgia Southern visits the Plains.
6 Years Ago - 2011
After winning the national championship in 2010, Auburn lost 35 players from the title-winning team. The squad in 2011 was almost a completely new squad, with only a few holdovers from the bunch that won it all. One of the pluses from the 2010 team was that there was a core group of upperclassmen and seniors that were able to provide the leadership and experience when Auburn trailed in games nearly every week.
That wasn’t the case in 2011. If you check out this list of Auburn’s 2008 commits, how many names do you actually remember ever stepping foot on the field? This was the biggest reason that the gap between Auburn and Alabama increased, as Nick Saban made it a point to recruit and Tuberville decided he could still find the diamonds in the rough and coach them up. That works, but not when the opposition has better players across the board before the coaching even begins.
Still, we were all riding on the high from 2010. We didn’t really consider that the dropoff would be all that bad, but the talent gap from one year to the next ended up being more of a chasm.
Auburn opened with Utah State, and I was sure this would just be a continuation of what we’d seen the season before. Easy win, and we’d get ready for SEC play the next week. Oh, how wrong I was.
The Aggies built a 21-7 lead early, as USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton ran around the Tiger defense, but a freshman back named Tre Mason took a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown to pull the Tigers back within a score.
Auburn then actually took the lead at 28-24 thanks to a play that spawned one of my favorite GIFs ever...
But Utah State took it right back. Two touchdowns in a row gave them a ten-point lead with four minutes to play. Philip Lutzenkirchen scored to cut the deficit to three, then the Tigers converted an onside kick with two minutes left, and drove for the winning plunge by Michael Dyer in the waning seconds.
It wasn’t ideal, but at least they hadn’t lost. And Barrett Trotter had looked pretty good at quarterback. He’d thrown for 286 yards and three scores, and the running game had barely helped him out.
The next week, we had another game come right down to the wire.
This game was rife with controversy (I don’t know if anyone remembers the headset issue), and there was barely a team that I wanted to beat more than Mississippi State after what had transpired in the Cam Newton saga the year before, and we got them here.
Despite the lackluster efforts and the slim escapes, Auburn was 2-0 heading to Clemson. The defense had given up nearly 1,000 total yards in two games, so that was cause for concern, but we had the mojo and just refused to lose.
The Tigers rolled into Death Valley and put a beating on Clemson in the first quarter. Michael Dyer burst around right end for a long touchdown, and then Emory Blake scored a long one himself to give Auburn a 14-0 lead, but then Tajh Boyd woke up and started flinging the ball around.
Auburn’s defense, which had been bad up to this point, got shredded over the next three quarters. Three touchdowns in the second period left us tied 21-21 at halftime, but the nation got introduced to Sammy Watkins in the third quarter as he sprinted away from defenders for two scores.
Clemson won 38-24, and Dabo obnoxiously said something about how appropriate it was for a Bama grad to end Auburn’s winning streak. Seventeen wins in a row were gone, and the Auburn defense was a mess. This was beginning to look more like the rebuilding year that many had expected.
The next week Auburn lazed through a win over Florida Atlantic, in which the offense only posted 315 yards. Now we had to travel to Columbia to test a much better South Carolina team than we’d seen in 2010. And they were mad after what happened in Atlanta.
Auburn somehow muddied up the game enough, with both sides committing four turnovers, to keep it close. The defense played well for the first time all year, holding South Carolina under 300 yards, and the offense actually drove for the winning score when it needed to do so.
Stephen Garcia couldn’t put together a last minute drive for the Gamecocks, and Auburn notched its best win that season by far. At this point, the Tigers were 4-1 and ranked 15th in the country with another big road trip on the horizon. It was off to Fayetteville.
Just like they’d done in 2009, the Hogs took it to Auburn. For some reason, Arkansas has the ability to run it up on the Tigers at undetermined points that will be most catastrophic to the season.
Auburn actually led 14-7 after one quarter, but Petrino’s team posted 31 unanswered in winning 38-14. This game also created the ever-popular quarterback controversy, as Barrett Trotter had an abysmal night, going just 6-19 for 81 yards and an interception. Three other players threw passes for the Tigers that night — Kiehl Frazier, Clint Moseley, and CJ Uzomah -- and it just blurred the situation under center.
The next week, the coaches rotated Trotter and Moseley for the most part, but refusing to pass more than necessary as a really average Florida team visited Auburn. The Tigers won 17-6 in one of the most boring games I can remember watching. Neither team could move the ball, the Gators didn’t even notch 200 total yards, and everyone in the stands around me in Jordan-Hare Stadium grumbled when things went wrong, which was often.
Pro: Auburn was 5-2 at the time.
Con: They didn’t really have a quarterback.
Con: A trip to Baton Rouge was on deck.
Auburn went into the other Death Valley and stuck around with LSU, who was the top-ranked team in the nation at the time, for more than a quarter. Trailing just 7-3 in the late stages of the second quarter, Auburn allowed a long touchdown pass to Reuben Randle. Then four more touchdowns. In a row.
LSU won 45-10 and solidified themselves atop the polls, while Auburn had to figure something out. The solution? New quarterback.
It became Clint Moseley’s job full-time as Trotter got benched. Thankfully, the next opponent was Ole Miss, who was dreadful near the end of Houston Nutt’s term.
Moseley had an efficient 12-15 throwing day for 160 yards and four touchdowns. Auburn beat the Rebs 41-23 in a game that wasn’t that close. Then it was off to Athens town.
Auburn got to venture out on the “Take Your Lumps” tour in 2011 after winning games by the skin of their teeth in 2010 at home. The trip to Georgia was another stop on this tour. The Bulldogs scored first, then after Auburn matched their touchdown with one of their own, Georgia ripped off 38 unanswered to win 45-7. Auburn failed to reach 200 yards. Aaron Murray threw for four touchdowns and torched the Tiger defense as UGA rolled up more than 500 total yards on the day. It was an embarrassing loss.
Thankfully, Auburn got to get right against Samford the weekend before the Iron Bowl, but the Bulldogs weren’t going to go quietly. It was a 21-16 Tiger lead into the fourth quarter before two late touchdowns sealed the deal for Auburn, and then we were on to the Iron Bowl.
If there was any team that wanted revenge for what happened in 2010, it was Alabama. The Tide had blown a 24-point lead at home the year before and Auburn took hold of the national attention by answering Bama’s national title with one of their own. Now, the game was at Jordan-Hare, and Auburn was overmatched.
Still, things weren’t comfortable until late for the Tide.
Just as they had the year before, Alabama jumped out to a 24-7 halftime lead, but there were a bunch of cool customers in Auburn that had seen the Tigers come back from this deficit a year earlier. No, we didn’t have Cam Newton on the team this year, so that comeback seemed unlikely. But when Onterio McCalebb returned the second half kickoff for a touchdown to pull Auburn within 24-14, every single Alabama fan got nervous. They’d seen this before, and it happened almost identically to what was unfolding on the field.
I would love to say that Auburn fought the good fight, but the machine was just too much. Alabama won 42-14, basically guaranteeing that there would be no comeback on that day.
Auburn finished the regular season at 7-5, and earned a bid to the Chick Fila Bowl to play Virginia. This was a wild-looking scene because both teams wore their home uniforms to the game.
Auburn won 43-24, with a bunch of different players showing off on offense, and in general, playing a pretty fun game that had plenty of fireworks as the clock wound down on 2011. The Tigers finished 8-5, but with Alabama winning another national championship just a few days later, that wasn’t good enough.
We’d also lost the architect of the offense from Chizik’s first three years, as Gus Malzahn was hired to be the new head coach at Arkansas State.
Although, with what transpired the next year, we’d be seeing Gus much earlier than we expected.
Coming Next: A Hole in Time