As we get to this point in the countdown, we’re going to encounter a bit of a lull. I hate to do it, but it’s important to remember our past faults and transgressions so that history doesn’t repeat itself (looking at you, 2012).
It’s also fitting that today’s entry in the countdown falls on an odd number for football scores. Scoring 26 points requires either two touchdowns and four field goals; three touchdowns, a field goal, and a safety; or eight field goals and a safety; or thirteen safeties. It’s possible, but it’s not likely. Auburn’s only won two games this millennium when posting 26 points, and we’ll cover them both here. 26 years ago was also 1991, right toward the downturn of the Pat Dye era, and the upswing of Gene Stallings’ Alabama teams. Things were starting to change in the state. If you don’t want to read about that, don’t tune in tomorrow either.
2015 - Auburn 26, Texas A&M 10
Auburn came into this game at 4-4 on the year after starting the season in the top ten thanks to the hype steaming off of Jeremy Johnson and the first half against Arkansas the season before. Texas A&M was the team that ruined Auburn’s 2014 campaign with the deflating loss on the Plains where the Tigers fumbled away certain victory twice in the final minutes. The Aggies boasted some of the best young talent around, but as Kevin Sumlin is wont to do, they were playing pretty poorly by the time November rolled around.
On a Saturday night in College Station, Auburn finally found the formula that won a ton of ballgames the previous two years under Gus Malzahn -- they ran the dang ball.
Jovon Robinson toted the rock 27 times for 159 yards and a score while Jeremy Johnson put up a very efficient 13-17 performance through the air for another score. The Auburn defense absolutely stifled A&M, allowing just over 300 yards and picking off three Kyler Murray passes. The Tigers jumped out to a 20-3 lead before A&M finally crossed the goal line with backup Jake Hubenak in the game. Again, red zone issues plucked up for Auburn, but four Daniel Carlson field goals were more than enough to down Texas A&M that night as Auburn got back on the winning side of things.
To be honestly, it was a perfectly unremarkable game overall, but it was the best performance Auburn put together all year and was a pleasant surprise after two straight losses before the road trip. Auburn finished the year 7-6 with the win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl as the capper to a decidedly disappointing year.
2009 - Auburn 26, Tennessee 22
In year one of the Gene Chizik era, Auburn jumped out to a fantastic 4-0 start with Gus Malzahn’s offense turning Chris Todd into a bonafide quarterback. The Tigers had won three pretty easy ballgames at home in addition to the wild West Virginia rain game, and headed into Knoxville the first weekend of October undefeated and just on the cusp of re-entering the rankings.
Of course, Tennessee had made a big splashy hire after getting rid of Phil Fulmer the year before, and the Volunteers were now led by former USC offensive coordinator/Oakland Raiders head coach/future Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who was the youngest active coach in the FBS at the time.
Tennessee’s first four games under Kiffin weren’t nearly as good as Auburn’s under Chizik — the Vols were 2-2 with losses to UCLA and Florida — but things would pick up and they’d be much more competitive than they were in 2008.
As for this game itself, Auburn was trying to claw its way back into the polls, and a nighttime win at Neyland Stadium would be a perfect way to do that, no matter how powerful the opponent was. Tennessee was just a couple years removed from an East Division title at that point, so their downturn wasn’t as evident yet.
For the fifth game in a row, Gus Malzahn’s offense came out cooking. Nobody in the SEC had an idea at this time how to stop the different misdirection and motion that Auburn used, and the Tigers looked great for the first half of the year on offense.
The Tigers opened up a 13-0 lead in the second quarter...
...and never looked back, getting up 23-6 before Tennessee tightened the screws in the second half and cut the lead. The Vols, trailing 26-16, scored a touchdown on the final play of the game and Lane Kiffin frantically signaled for the two-point conversion, but the officials waved everyone off the field because it didn’t matter.
Ben Tate ran for 128 yards and a score and Auburn looked like it was going to hit a tear in Chizik’s first year. Sadly, Auburn took their 5-0 record into the veritable house of horrors in Fayetteville the next weekend and Arkansas took down the merrymaking Tigers by three touchdowns. Then Kentucky beat Auburn at home. Then Auburn got waxed at LSU. October sucked, man.
After starting 5-0, Auburn rattled home at 3-5, ending the year with one of the wackiest bowl wins ever in the Outback bowl over Northwestern.
26 Years Ago: 1991
Let’s just go ahead and say it, there was very little about 1991 (and 1992) that went well for the Tigers. Auburn began ‘91 ranked 17th in the AP Poll with a chance to move up early if they could get by Texas, who started the year ranked 14th.
Pat Dye’s penultimate team did just that. They began the year 3-0 with wins over Georgia Southern, Ole Miss, and Texas. In Austin in game three, Auburn scored in the opening minute on a Stan White touchdown pass, and led 14-0 after one quarter before holding off the Longhorns to win 14-10. Auburn rose to #13 in the rankings but it was a short-lived high.
A trip to Knoxville the next week ruined the perfect record as Tennessee won 30-21, then a very unexpected home loss to Southern Miss absolutely dashed the season the very next game. Seriously, Auburn lost to them the year before, and they DIDN’T EVEN HAVE BRETT FAVRE THIS TIME.
Auburn won just two more games that year (a squeaker against Vandy and a blowout against Louisiana-Lafeyette) and lost to Mississippi State, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. at 5-6, the Tigers would not go bowling for the first time in ten years, dating back to Pat Dye’s first season on the Plains (also a 5-6 campaign).
Interestingly enough, the Iron Bowl moved back to Birmingham that year, even though Auburn had the “home” advantage. There would be four more Iron Bowls at Legion Field after that, all of which Alabama would win. Praise the good Lord above that there’s no need to play in that stadium anymore.
Coming Tomorrow: 25 Days Until Kickoff (and aren’t you excited to hear about 1992, the year Alabama won a national championship? I bet!)