As we get closer and closer to kickoff, our Countdown will get simpler and simpler. We’re four days to kickoff, and so now we get to relive a year that gets further and further from memory every single day, despite how fresh it is in everyone’s mind.
4 Years Ago - 2013
Let’s consider the end of 2012. Our national championship-winning head coach had just been fired for losing complete control of the team and the program. Our arch rivals had just won their second straight title, third in four years, and showed no sign of slowing down.
Where was Auburn? We’d just pulled Gus Malzahn out of the head coaching boot camp at Arkansas State to replace his former boss, and despite the fact that he had a ton of talent to work with, there wasn’t much confidence after having been shut out by Georgia and Alabama to finish the season before.
For one thing, we knew that Gus was the architect of the 2010 offense with Cam Newton. If he could’ve gotten anything close to that in his first season, we would probably enjoy 2013 whether he got any true big wins or not.
There wouldn’t be much time for the team to gel and find itself, as Mike Leach and Washington State were coming in for the first game. Auburn was chock full of talent still, with Tre Mason, Sammie Coates, a great offensive line, some solid upperclassmen players on defense, and a transfer quarterback by the name of Nick Marshall.
Marshall won the starting job and we knew immediately he fit the dual-threat quarterback mold that Gus likely wanted to employ. He was slippery, had a cannon for an arm, and we were optimistic.
In the opener, Auburn played a close game with Wazzu, eventually winning 31-24, even though Marshall threw for just 99 yards in the game. The rushing attack rolled up nearly 300 yards and Tre Mason burst back onto the scene with another kickoff return for a touchdown as the Tigers got 2013 started off right.
Things continued the right way one week later as Auburn roughed up Gus’ old team, Arkansas State. Auburn again ran for about 300 yards and Marshall’s passing opened up a bit and we were all pretty pleased about the way the season was starting. But the next week, we’d see the first bit of adversity and the first bit of magic from this bunch.
Mississippi State visited Jordan-Hare Stadium in the third game of the year, and it looked really good early. Auburn jumped up 11-0 (Gus had a propensity to go for two early on), with Quan Bray scoring a long touchdown thanks to some broken defense. The Bulldogs had some guy playing quarterback named Dak Prescott, and he’d end up working the Tiger defense for most of the night. That said, MSU just couldn’t quite find the end zone.
Prescott ended up rushing for over 100 yards and his second touchdown scamper of the night the Bulldogs up 20-14 early in the third quarter. That’s when Auburn’s defense clamped down, and the offense stepped up. With the run game sputtering, the Tigers managed a field goal to pull within three, but they found themselves with only a couple minutes remaining and a large portion of the field to go for the tying score, down 20-17.
Nick Marshall used his arm and legs, moving the Tigers deep into Bulldog territory, and came up with the first dramatic highlight of many that year.
I was sitting in the studio, producing the radio broadcast for the Auburn Network for this season, and Paul Ellen told me as the touchdown happened to “let this one roll.” Rod’s call was good, and Auburn was 3-0 after the first real big win of the season.
Then came Baton Rouge.
Again, why in the world does Auburn have such trouble playing down there? I was sure that watching Jeremy Hill plow through our defense in the stiffest dew in Tiger Stadium history would show the future for the season. I had no idea that the loss would end up galvanizing the team. Auburn fell behind 21-0, but you could see the fight in the team. They didn’t flat out quit with the big deficit. There were a ton of mistakes that allowed LSU to build a lead, and Auburn nearly pulled within one score late if not for a reversed onside kick ruling.
Either way, it was the first loss of the year. 35-21, Auburn went back home at 3-1 with a game versus a ranked Ole Miss squad on deck.
After getting thumped down on the bayou, Auburn came out roaring against the Rebels. An early Tre Mason touchdown led into what became another one of Rod Bramblett’s great early calls that season.
Auburn leapt out to a 27-9 lead over Ole Miss late in the third quarter before Dr. Bo Wallace led two touchdown drives in the waning moments, but our own freshman Carl Lawson provided the capper and spawned a fantastic GIF at the same time in sealing the win.
Auburn won 30-22 in a game that wasn’t quite that close, and it led into a blowout win over Western Carolina the next week. Nick Marshall got a bit dinged up as he ran late against the Rebels, so here we got to see our first tantalizing look at Jeremy Johnson! Oh, how we were teased. How was he so good in his limited action before 2015, and so bad once he was the starting quarterback?
Johnson threw for four touchdowns in the evisceration of the Catamounts, and Auburn won 62-3 to improve to 5-1 and climb into the rankings at #24 just in time to go try to exact revenge over Johnny Football in College Station.
Texas A&M was... good. That was one of the more dangerous offenses I think we’ve seen in modern history here in the SEC, and the Manziel to Mike Evans connection was so, so fun to watch (when they weren’t playing against you). Texas A&M had nearly sprung another upset over Alabama, but the Aggies had fallen to the Tide and were ranked 7th as Auburn visited.
Early on, Auburn took the lead despite the Manziel-Evans hookup going for four touchdowns over the course of the game. The Tigers did keep pace, down just a touchdown at halftime, but things looked lost once A&M went up 34-24 early in the fourth quarter.
Still, Auburn didn’t give up. After finally finding the rhythm the previous week in the easy victory over WCU, the Tigers had found their run game. Touchdowns by Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne gave Auburn the lead 38-34 before Manziel scored again to give A&M their final advantage of the day with five minutes to play. That’s when Auburn went on the kind of drive we saw in 2010, grinding clock and churning toward the inevitable.
Tre Mason scored the eventual game-winner with 1:19 on the clock on a play that was actually reviewed and the ruled a touchdown. That was unfortunate because it gave A&M more time to drive, down 45-41. The Aggies moved deep, got inside the Auburn 30, and then the defense took over.
When it was all said and done, Auburn had run for 379 yards and gained over 600 total on A&M. The win vaulted the Tigers to 11th in the rankings, and the momentum carried them to an easy win over Florida Atlantic at home the next week to improve to 7-1.
What we were seeing at the time was an historic rushing offense. After going for 300 yards on the ground a couple times early, Auburn had almost hit 400 against A&M, then they did do it against FAU. Yes, the meat of the schedule was still in front of them, but they were on a torrid pace.
One player in particular was also becoming a serious workhorse for the Tigers. Tre Mason followed up his 178-yard effort in College Station with a 168-yard outing in Fayetteville, and he scored four of Auburn’s five touchdowns against the Hogs in a 35-17 win as the Tigers moved to 8-1.
Auburn was firmly entrenched in the top ten as a trip to Knoxville loomed before the home stretch against Georgia and Alabama. Tennessee was in its first year of a new coach, as Butch Jones had some nice promise at the time for the Vols, but they just weren’t there yet. Auburn made sure they didn’t get to a certain point either.
The Tigers showed off on special teams, racking up the most return yards in a single game ever. Chris Davis returned a punt for a score, Corey Grant went for a kickoff return touchdown, and the Auburn rushing attack again embarrassed its opposition. Nick Marshall threw for 35 yards and Auburn won 55-23. Marshall raced for 214 on the ground, Tre Mason added another hundred or so and three scores, and Auburn looked flat out unstoppable in one of the most complete wins over a conference team that I can remember.
We were on a high. We were all having a great time as Georgia ventured into Jordan-Hare Stadium, and for nearly three quarters on November 16th, 2013, the party continued as Auburn built a 37-17 lead over the Bulldogs. Auburn had beaten Georgia just once in the previous seven meetings, so this felt good. I sat in the studio for the radio broadcast happily cutting our highlights for what was sure to be an extensive postgame recap.
Then Aaron Murray decided that he didn’t want his final trip to Jordan-Hare to be a bad one. The Georgia quarterback went unconscious and led three very quick scoring drives as Auburn’s offense fell completely asleep.
Quicker than I even remembered, Auburn now trailed 38-37. How in the world was Georgia going to snake out of town with another win? This was not a particularly good Bulldog team, and I felt dazed as I listened to Rod’s setup of Auburn’s final drive. A sack set up a 4th down and 18 at Auburn’s own 27.
There’s Rod describing one of the most miraculous plays you’ll ever see. I didn’t even see it live. I was looking away from the TV in my studio, listening and hoping that something would happen. And it did.
Just for fun, here are a few more angles. First, the Georgia radio crew.
Now, a couple of raw angles.
Auburn won, 43-38. I actually teared up afterward with the swing of emotions in that game. I felt privileged and honored to be a tiny, tiny part of history, as that play and Rod’s call will be thrown up on the Jumbotron for eternity.
Anyway, the Tigers went into their bye week before the Iron Bowl at 10-1, and after some chaos around the country the weekend before Thanksgiving, Auburn ended up at #4 by the time Bama came to town two days after the holiday.
I may disappoint you here, and spoil some things as well, but we’ll cover this game much more in the coming days of the Countdown. Therefore, we won’t say too much about it now. You know what happened. Tied at 28 with one second left on the clock, Alabama lined up for a 57-yard field goal and the win.
Enough said for now. Again, much more to come on the biggest play in college football history later this week. We’ll save the full dissertation for that time.
Auburn won the SEC West and went to Atlanta, where they fully dismantled Missouri’s defense in winning the SEC in the biggest turnaround in college football history. From 3-9 and a winless conference season, to 12-1 and SEC Champions.
The Tigers ran for a conference record 543 yards against 5th-ranked Missouri in the Georgia Dome. Tre Mason went for nearly a school record 304 yards, and Auburn posted the highest point total in the history of the game in winning 59-42.
Later that night, Michigan State beat #2 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, boosting third-ranked Auburn to challenger status against unbeaten Florida State for the final BCS Championship Game.
Had we beaten the Seminoles, I’d write a full tome on this season, but we came up thirteen seconds shy of our second national title in four years.
Auburn blew a 21-3 lead and allowed a heroic late drive from Jameis Winston as Florida State scored the winning touchdown over Chris Davis. The Tigers’ last-gasp effort didn’t come up successful for the third time in four games and Auburn fell in the national championship. We thought that it would leave a hunger in the mouths of a team that would return the next year almost fully-intact, but we’ll cover that tomorrow.
Coming Up: Ups and Downs