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Countdown to Kickoff: 92 Days

It might be 91, but let’s just say it’s 92

Todd Van Emst

All things considered, 2009 was a pretty good year for Auburn. After a 5-7 campaign with a putrid offense finally brought an end to Tommy Tuberville’s tenure, Gene Chizik came in got off to a roaring 5-0 start. However, a three game losing streak followed as the schedule got tougher. A standard Fayetteville morning kickoff was the first setback, then the offense went as cold as the temperature on an unseasonably chilly night at home against Kentucky. One blowout loss in Baton Rouge later, Auburn was still one win away from bowl eligibility. As I walked out of Tiger Stadium, and LSU fan from two sections over saw my blue shirt and screamed “HEY AUBURN! GO TO HELL OLE MISS!” I managed a smile at the sheer pettiness of knowing exactly who a rival was playing next week. What would follow was a roller coaster of a game that featured terrible weather, a horrific injury, and one of the wildest quarters I had ever seen.

The Rebels came to Auburn ranked 24th in the AP, having jumped back in after a 30-17 win over Arkansas the previous week. Ole Miss had started the year ranked in the top 10, but a road loss to South Carolina followed two weeks later by a listless performance at home against Alabama had dropped them all the way out of the polls. Preseason All-SEC quarterback Jevan Snead wasn’t quite living up to the billing, but the Rebels were still a tough team.

Ole Miss started out on fire, driving 94 yards in 10 plays without facing a 3rd down. After Auburn answered with a field goal, the teams settled into trading possessions. With just under 3 minutes to go in the first quarter, one of the scariest moments I’ve ever seen in Jordan-Hare Stadium happened. Ole Miss running back Rodney Scott took a handoff up the middle, and Zac Etheridge dove in for the hit and his helmet collided with teammate Antonio Coleman. Etheridge lay motionless on the field for several minutes while Scott stayed perfectly still so that emergency personnel could attend to Etheridge. Zac would be lost for the season with broken vertebrae in his neck, but he recovered to start on the 2010 team.

Both teams seemed to be affected by the injury, as neither team would truly threaten until Auburn strung together a 6-play, 90 yard drive that featured a 42-yard pass on 3rd and 2 to Terrell Zachary*, and a 28-yard touchdown pass to Darvin Adams. The game entered halftime with the underdog Tigers in front 10-7, and the third quarter started unassumingly with two punts. It would soon go absolutely bonkers.

Two big plays and a false start moved Auburn from their own 39 to first and goal at the Ole Miss 14. The next 8 snaps would result in 21 Auburn points. Kodi Burns found Tommy Trott for a touchdown, Walt McFadden made one of the craziest pick-6’s I’ve ever seen** on Ole Miss’s first snap after the touchback, Ole Miss went 3-and-out, and Auburn scored in 3 plays with Ben Tate taking a counter untouched for a 53-yard touchdown. All of a sudden Auburn was blowing out the Rebels 31-7.

1:38 of football time later it was 31-20.

Ole Miss had run the ensuing kickoff back, forced a 3-and-out, then scored on the first play of the next drive (Dexter McCluster was very, very fast). Now they just needed an extra point to cut it to a 10-point deficit. Auburn had other ideas.

The official game log credits Antonio Coleman with the block, but it could have been one of about 3 guys. Nick Fairley probably would have blocked it if Coleman didn’t. Coleman was able to get leverage on his man, and Fairley followed him right into the backfield. This kick didn’t have a chance. Coleman tried to pick it up, but thankfully for Auburn, Demond Washington got to it first around the 8 yard line. 92-yards later, Auburn’s lead was 13. Now, AC might have made it, but Demond Washington was Auburn’s kick returner for a reason. The three point swing meant that Ole Miss was still down two touchdowns.

And just like that, the scoring for the day was finished. Ole Miss would threaten three times, but one drive ended in a fumble, another that started deep in Auburn territory would go backwards and end in a punt, and the last Rebel chance died on Walt McFadden’s second interception of the day.

Ole Miss would notch three straight victories, including an upset of #10 LSU to get them back in the AP poll. Then they promptly lost to unranked Mississippi State. The Rebels won the Cotton Bowl for the second straight season, but that would be the last high under Houston Nutt. The Rebels bottomed out in 2010 and 2011 and Nutt was gone.

The Tigers would go on to defeat Furman on homecoming, but they dropped close games to Georgia and Alabama before defeating Northwestern three times in the Outback Bowl. The win over Ole Miss was Auburn’s best of 2009, and became one of the springboards in the 2010 season.

*-It’s the old “sugar huddle play-fake fullback wheel route” play. Prosch would get one for a 50-yard gain against A&M in 2013. I think we’ve tried it with Chandler Cox a few times. I even saw Chip Lindsey use it at Arizona State. This time, Ole Miss actually covered Mario Fannin. That left Zachary and Adams in single coverage on 9 routes. Todd just picked the faster guy.
**-I’m saving this in case we use it later in the countdown.