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Countdown to Kickoff: 98 Days

Auburn got off to a bumpy start in Charlottesville, VA in 1997 but a 98 yard touchdown drive would give the Tigers a lead they would never surrender.


Part of what I wanted to accomplish by doing this countdown was to revisit some moments or games that maybe aren’t talked about a bunch these days. Much of this countdown will be made up of historic moments we all know and cherish but occasionally I’ll throw in something random.

Like a 10 play, 98 yard touchdown drive vs Virginia in 1997.

The Tigers entered the 1997 season with some high hopes. They had a number of big time players returning that year including Dameyune Craig and Takeo Spikes. But they were on the road to open the season in Charlottesville, VA against a Cavaliers team hungry to make a big splash in their Thursday night home opener.

It was about as ugly a start as Auburn could have to open the season. Dameyune Craig fumbled the opening snap resulting in a 10+ yard loss and the first punt was blocked for a safety. Auburn’s offense had negative rushing yards late in the 1st quarter. Thankfully, Virginia couldn’t capitalize including fumbling the ball at the goal line for what should have been a walk in touchdown. That would prove huge as Auburn turned that fumble into a 10 play, 98 yard touchdown drive to take the lead.

Let’s take a look....

Play 1 | 1st & 10 | AU 2 yd line

Auburn opens the drive with what looks like inside zone in 21 personnel (2 back, 1 TE). Tigers don’t get much of a push and the play is stopped after a minimal gain.

Play 2 | 2nd & 8 | AU 4 yd line

Once again, Auburn is in 21 personnel and lined up in an offset I formation. Again, looks like an inside zone play and again Auburn’s offensive line doesn’t give Rusty Williams much space to run but he’s able to find 4 yards on the play and setup a manageablepp 3rd down.

Play 3 | 3rd & 4 | AU 8 yd line

Perfect play call on 3rd down. Virginia’s defense has been swarming so far this game and Auburn uses that aggression against them. Fred Beasley fakes like’s going to block the DE and slips out into the flat. The play fake gets the Cavaliers’ defense to bite hard to the field side and open up the boundary for Beasley. Dameyune Craig does an outstanding job of setting his feet quickly when he sees pressure and delivering a strike to Beasley for the first down. The 2nd angle does a really good job of showing this play unfold.

Play 4 | 1st & 10 | AU 27 yd line

Hey look it’s 21 personnel again! This time, however, Auburn motions Rusty Williams out of the backfield and into the boundary. UVA blitzes and Auburn’s OL fails to pick it up, but it takes more than one silly free blitzer to bring Damyune Craig down. Fred Beasley releases on the snap up the middle and runs a quick sit down route just past the line of scrimmage. However, when Craig rolls right, Beasley smartly breaks towards open field and no UVA defenders pick him up. Craig finds his fullback again for a huge gain.

Play 5 | 1st & 10 | UVA 38 yd line

It’s hard to tell from this angle but I am guessing the Tigers were looking for a shot deep off the play fake on this play. But Craig doesn’t see anything he likes and tries to get something on the ground. He doesn’t get anything.

Play 6 | 2nd & 10 | UVA 38 yd line

Markeith Cooper checks into the game and the Tigers give him the ball on the quick toss. Auburn’s RG gets whooped on the play but credit the Lizard for breaking the tackle and adding 2-3 extra yards on the play.

Play 7 | 3rd & 7 | UVA 35 yd line

This is the first time all drive that the Tigers aren’t in 21 personnel. The Tigers sub out the tight end for a 3rd wide receiver. It’s also the first time they line up in a Shotgun formation. From this angle you can’t really tell what passing concept Auburn is running on this play but it looks like possibly a smash route where outside WR runs a quick hitch and the slot man runs a corner route. Craig takes a quick 3 step drop and hits Hicks Poor (amazing name) who dances his way to a 1st down. No doubt Craig was a tremendous athlete playing the QB position but this play gives an example of the pocket passing skills he also possessed. That’s a bullet he throws in time and in a place that lets his WR quickly make the catch and get up field.

Play 8 | 1st & 10 | UVA 28 yd line

There’s that man again. Auburn’s back in the ole 21 personnel and in the I Formation. The Tigers call the classic FB Dive to Fred Beasley who runs into his center, bounces off and gets outside for an 8 yard gain. This drive was the Fred Beasley showcase.

Play 9 | 2nd & 2 | UVA 20 yd line

On 2nd & short the Tigers elect to give the ball again to Rusty Williams on the inside zone. There isn’t a ton of running room but enough for Williams to pickup the 1st down. Not pretty but effective and keeps the chains moving.

Play 10 | 1st & 10 | UVA 17 yd line

Auburn is back in Shotgun again and it looks like they’ve got a backside wheel route drawn up for Rusty Williams. Craig pump fakes to the right, looks back to the left and apparently doesn’t like what he sees. The Cavaliers lose contain and Craig shows off his elite athleticm racing into the endzone for the score. This was Dameyune Craig at his best, creating big plays out of nothing when Auburn needed it most.

That drive would give the Tigers a lead they would never relinquish. Auburn would score three more touchdowns that night thanks to a pick 6 and two bombs to Karsten Bailey to take home the 28-17 victory. It was a bumpy start but that Thursday night victory would give Auburn fans just a taste of what was to come that season.

98 day till kickoff! War Eagle!