In just two short days’ time, we’ll be tailgating as we get ready for the start of an assured national championship from the Auburn Tigers.
I can dream.
2 Years Ago - 2015
Here was another year in which we all dreamed of a national championship. Despite finishing the year at 8-5 in 2014, faltering on defense down the stretch and showing cracks on all sides, the Tigers were poised for a huge year in 2015.
We’d seen the hire of Will Muschamp at defensive coordinator for his second stint in the same role on the Plains, and we’d have a bonafide Heisman candidate at quarterback in Jeremy Johnson. Those two things we absolutely knew. Everyone had seen Johnson work defenses in a backup role the previous two seasons, including his sizzling start against Arkansas to begin 2014.
When the Tigers opened the year in Atlanta against Louisville, I thought they would win the national championship. I was all in. After the first three minutes of that game, I knew they’d win the national championship.
Tray Matthews, in his debut play as a Tiger, picked off Lamar Jackson (yeah, the Heisman winner), and then just a few plays later, Jeremy Johnson strolled into the end zone and it was 7-0 Auburn. The Tigers looked good. Really good. Championship good.
Then Johnson threw an interception. And another. And a third. What the heck was going on? This wasn’t our Heisman quarterback.
Louisville wasn’t a great team that season, and Auburn had more than enough talent to win the game, which they did, 31-24. Johnson threw for just 137 yards and a touchdown, and his preseason Heisman talk took a huge shot.
Auburn stood steady in the polls at #6, and looked ready to rebound at home in a paycheck game against Jacksonville State. Oh, how wrong we were. JSU came in and took it to the Tigers physically, and Jeremy Johnson could not seem to find the Tiger receivers. Auburn trailed 10-6 at halftime, and needed a touchdown in the final minute to send it to overtime, where Peyton Barber was able to plunge into the end zone to give the Tigers a much-needed and breathless win.
That was it for Auburn. 2-0 and the deflated. Instead of galvanizing in the face of adversity they wilted. Game three in Baton Rouge was a disaster. Sitting in the studio for the radio broadcast, I remember during our final commercial break before kickoff Rod Bramblett said “Well, let’s see how this goes...” right before Leonard Fournette nearly took off for a touchdown on the opening play.
He did that several times that afternoon, clowning Auburn defenders left and right as he ran for 228 yards and three touchdowns. LSU won 45-21. Auburn was done.
With the discovery of this heretofore unseen football tactic...
...a change at quarterback was made the next week as Mississippi State visited.
Sean White got his first start and looked pretty good against the Bulldogs, but I think the team had been lost at this point. MSU won 17-9, sending the Tigers to 2-2. Afterward, Auburn lazily escaped San Jose State 35-21 in a game that was close into the third quarter before beating Kentucky in Lexington in a tense Thursday night game.
If there was any hope for the Tigers’ record that year, it died in Fayetteville. At 4-2, Auburn had a shot to make a little rally as we crossed the midpoint of the season, but the dropsies in a rainy game prevented that from happening. Auburn couldn’t hang onto the ball and allowed fourth down conversions galore as Arkansas won 54-46 in a four overtime affair.
After Leonard Fournette had pledged to make it right after Auburn beat LSU 41-7 in 2014, he made good on that promise in 2015. As Ole Miss visited the Plains, Laquon Treadwell made a vow to do similar damage to the painful memories of 2014. If you recall, he broke his leg on the way to score the game-winning touchdown against Auburn in 2014. In 2015, he caught seven passes for 114 yards in leading Ole Miss to a 27-19 victory.
At 4-4, Auburn had to trek to College Station to tangle with a team that had ruined their season the year before, but somehow the Tigers put it all together in beating the Aggies 26-10. Jovon Robinson emerged at tailback, and he plowed for 159 yards as the Tigers shut down the A&M attack. The excitement was short-lived.
Even when Auburn was struggling, there was no way they should’ve lost to Georgia. The Bulldogs put up only 243 yards on the day, but Isaiah McKenzie returned a punt for a touchdown and Georgia won 20-13, dropping the Tigers to 5-5.
Auburn beat Idaho in the warmup before the Iron Bowl, and with an injured Sean White, were forced to go with Jeremy Johnson for the game against Alabama in Jordan-Hare.
The Tide was too much for the Tigers on that day, due to a number of factors.
But to be true, Bama was too powerful. Our offense wasn’t good enough to keep the ball away from Derrick Henry, who ran 46 times on the day in pretty much clinching the Heisman. It was a bitter end to a disappointing season.
After beating Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl, Auburn did finish with a 7-6 record that felt like little more than a consolation prize for playing. Gus went into the offseason on the hot seat after two straight top ten starts and unranked finishes. He had to some work to do.
Coming Next: Last Year