War Eagle, everybody! Time now for another in the series of Tommy Tuberville’s Greatest Games! On September 16, 2006, two top ten-ranked football teams geared up for a WAR, at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The past two seasons had featured close, hard hitting games between Auburn and LSU, and this year was likely to be no different. Since both teams mopped up the SEC West Cellar in 1999, the winner of this game was in the driver’s seat for a division title, year after year. From 2000-2005, either Auburn or LSU played in Atlanta, five times.
LSU was the visitor in this one, ranked 6th in the nation, and led by superstar junior quarterback Jamarcus Russell. There was said to be nothing the giant Russell couldn’t do. He could run, and he could throw an accurate dart 60 yards, off his back foot. LSU had an electric receiving corps, including Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis, and Early Doucet. In the backfield, a stable of great backs jockeyed for carries. On top for this game were Justin Vincent, and Jacob Hester. On defense, LSU was downright scary. With Glenn Dorsey in the middle, and Tyson Jackson at end, as well as an 8-deep defensive line depth chart, almost as talented, the experts wondered how ANYONE would move the ball on LSU! LSU had tuned up on the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana Lafayette, 45-3, then had obliterated Arizona by the same score. Neither opponent had gotten even a sniff of the LSU goal line.
Auburn was undefeated, too. The Tigers had downed Washington State 40-14, and had defeated the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville, 34-0. While a 74-14 point advantage looked impressive, there were questions for Auburn, coming into this game, mostly on the offensive side. It took Auburn till nearly halftime to get a touchdown on Washington State, and the yards had come only with difficulty against the Bulldogs. Kenny Irons had hurt an ankle in the second half of the season opener, and did not appear to be running full speed. Brad Lester was nicked up, too. After a 98 point offensive explosion in the last three 2005 regular season games, the Tiger faithful were expecting eye-popping numbers out of quarterback Brandon Cox, and the Auburn offense in 2006. Unfortunately for Cox, the receiving corps consisted of Courtney Taylor, who was double covered every play, a walk-on and a 5th year senior who had spent most of his career injured, or on the scout team. Auburn receivers had difficulty getting open, and the offense appeared stagnant. Luckily for Auburn, a good offensive line led by guards Ben Grubbs, and Tim Duckworth, paved the way for the hard running yards. The Tiger offense was facing a tall order, though, against LSU’s monster defensive unit.
September 16th was a warm 84 degree fall day, but a front had blown through earlier in the week, and it was a lot less humid than usual for September in the South. Almost no wind blew that day, and the packed stadium baked in the sun. The game was a headliner, picked up for national broadcast by CBS. All experts figured that the winning team would win the West, and the loser would be headed for Orlando at the end of the year.
Game recap, after the jump!
LSU won the toss, and deferred to the second half. Chris Jackson wisely kicked away from speedy Auburn return man Tristan Davis, down to the 1 yard line. Brad Lester took the kick, and was snowed under up at the 14. From there, Brandon Cox had to throw the first one away, then found Courtney Taylor for 7 on the hitch. On 3rd and three, Cox was buried by Tyson Jackson and Ricky Jean-Francois. After the sack, Kody Bliss punted from the 11, and boomed it 50 yards. Chevis Jackson surged forward, for 7 yards to the LSU 44.
LSU ran right at the Auburn defense, picking up 3 on a give to Justin Vincent. Then Jemarcus Russell dumped it for 4 to the sideline, to Craig Davis. On third and three, LSU tried to run over Auburn with Vincent. It was nothin’-doin’, as tackle Josh Thompson stood Vincent up after only a yard! On 4th and 2, LSU punted away. Chris Jackson’s boot went out of bounds at the Auburn 13.
Backed up again, Auburn dumped another hitch to Taylor for 5. Then Kenny Irons was stopped after 2. On third and 3, Chevis Jackson made a huge tackle on Auburn tight end Tommy Trott in the flat, a yard short of the first down. On 4th and 1 from the Auburn 22, Kody Bliss came in, and HAMMERED a punt 61 yards, to the LSU 17. Chevis Jackson took it back out to the 29.
On LSU’s second possession, Russell fired on the slant to Early Doucet, and Doucet picked up a quick 13. A slant to Dwayne Bowe was dropped, and on 2nddown, Alley Broussard took a draw upstream for 5. On 3rd and 5, Russell found Bowe underneath, working on nickel-back Zach Gilbert, for 12 and another LSU first down, at the Auburn 41. A false-start penalty backed LSU up, then Alley Broussard ran right into Josh Thompson for 4 yards. A great middle screen to fullback Jacob Hester appeared to be headed for big yardage, but Hester was run down after 9 yards, by defensive tackle SenDerrick Marks! That brought up 3rd and 2. Broussard took it up the middle, but was stood up, and driven back, by Karibi Dede, and Merrill Johnson! On 4th and 1, LSU elected to go for it. Russell faked, then tried to dump a pass to fullback Jacob Hester. Dede was there on the coverage, and it fell incomplete! LSU turned it over on downs!
Auburn’s offense, anemic from the get-go, took a step backwards on this drive. Irons plowed for 3 on first down, then Cox was sacked again, by Glenn Dorsey. On 3rd and 14, Cox dumped it short to Rod Smith. The ball caromed off Smith’s hands, and was picked off by safety Craig Steltz. Steltz took it down to the Auburn 29, and Auburn was in trouble!
LSU tried the off-tackle play, and Will Herring fired through and dumped Broussard for a 4 yard loss! Another Russell to Bowe attempt hit the grass, then Russell chunked one to the end zone, to no one in particular, pressured by Karibi Dede. LSU pinned Auburn deep on the punt, but was flagged for illegal formation. The re-punt went into the end zone for a touch back!
The first quarter ended with Auburn’s Irons being dumped for a loss, then Cox scrambling for 3. At the end of one, the score was knotted at zero to zero. On third and 7, Dorsey and Jackson ran through Auburn blockers and sacked Cox again. Kody Bliss came in to save the day, and boomed one 61 yards, downed at the LSU 23.
Russell tried to open with the slant to Doucet again, but Will Herring was in his face, and the ball sailed. Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was REALLY dialing up the blitzes! A dive to Hester got NOTHING, stoned in the middle by Josh Thompson! On 3rd and 10, Russell tried another home-run bomb, to no avail. Chris Jackson punted away, fair caught by Robert Dunn at the Auburn 30.
This Auburn drive appeared doomed like the ones before, when Irons picked up exactly nothing on two carries. Then, on 3rd and 10, Brandon Cox stepped up and found Robert Dunn squaring in over the middle, for 14 yards and a first down! Cox found tight end Cole Bennett for 7 on first down, and Bennett was chopped down hard. It would be the end of Bennett’s season, on the injury. Cox darted up the middle for 5, for another first down. Then Kenny Irons found his first running room of the night, slashing for 11. Auburn had a second first down, at the LSU 33! Carl Stewart got a rare carry on the belly-play, and hammered off guard for 7. Then Brad Lester was stoned for NOTHING, by Darry Beckwith and Glenn Dorsey. On 3rd and 3, Kenny Irons got the call, and powered for the first down! Auburn went back to Irons two more times, for 5, and then zero, bringing up 3rd and 5 at the LSU 18. LSU brought the heat, but Cox fired on the slant to Prechae Rodriguez, and it was complete down to the ten! There, Auburn stalled. A handoff to Stewart got only one, then a screen attempt to Trey Smith went for naught. On 3rd and 9, the floodgates opened, and Cox sailed one in the general direction of Rod Smith, incomplete. Tackle Glenn Dorsey landed on Cox’s knees, and everyone figured the Auburn quarterback’s day, and possibly season, was over. John Vaughn came in for the chip shot field goal attempt, but clacked the ball off the left upright. Another kick against LSU, another miss! The Tigers had driven, and eaten up over 12 minutes, but had come up empty… and it was looking like Blake Field would have to finish the game at quarterback!
LSU took over on the 20, with 4:15 left in the half. Two Vincent runs picked up 8, then Russell dumped it in the flat to Hester, for 8 and a first down. Merrill Johnson buried Alley Broussard for a 4 yard loss, but Russell got it back with a rocket pass to Craig Davis for 15. After an incompletion, a 4 yard dump
to Hester, and a miss on a throw towards Bowe, LSU appeared to be stopped again. Instead, Auburn’s David Irons was called for defensive holding away from the play, giving LSU a first down at the Auburn 39. From there, Russell missed Hester on the screen, then took off out of the pocket. David Irons hit Russell, and raked the ball out. Dwayne Bowe fell on the ball, and LSU had another first down at the Auburn 27. The Auburn defense had its back against the wall, again. Would they answer the call? Muschamp SENT THE HOUSE against Russell twice, and desperation passes had no chance. On third and 10, with Auburn jumping like madmen, Russell fumbled the snap, but got it back in the scrum, at the 25. On the last play of the half, Colt David came in, and nailed a 42 yard field goal. At the half, LSU led Auburn, 3-0.
The first half had been VICIOUS! Neither offensive line had been able to move the other team’s front. Violent collisions abounded, and several players on each side had already made early departures to the locker room. Each team had managed just a single drive. Auburn’s chance had bounced off the goal post, and LSU had converted theirs, for a 3-0 lead. 30 more minutes of head-knocking were left. Who would remain standing, at the end?
Auburn’s Matt Clark made his first appearance of the game, and kicked off for a touch back. It’s a safe bet that both locker rooms at the half, featured harsh words for the offensive lines. LSU came off the ball hard, on the first two plays. Alley Broussard slammed for 9, then 3 for a first down. LSU stayed on the ground with Broussard, but couldn’t get Josh Thompson blocked. Broussard went down in the backfield. Russell fired on the slant again, and Early Doucet had an easy 16. Auburn did not have a nickel back with the speed to stay with Doucet. Drop a linebacker and jam the slant? Give up the middle on the run, if you do. It was a quandary, for Will Muschamp. Russell dumped one in the flat to Hester, for 6. Then, LSU went power off right tackle, to Hester. Will Herring and Pat Simms burst through, and dumped Hester for a loss. Russell tried to get one off to Richard Dickson, but it went incomplete. LSU punted away, from the Auburn 49. Chris Jackson’s punt made the end zone, and LSU was flagged for illegal formation again. Auburn took over on the 25.
Now, it was the Tiger line’s chance to blow folks off the ball. Auburn fans were incredulous that Brandon Cox was back in! His knee had been bent backwards, near the end of the first half! First, Kenny Irons swept for 4. Then, off play-action, Cox found Rod Smith on the sideline for 17, and a new set of downs. Inspired, the Tigers continued to hammer the LSU defense. Irons rushed for 5, 9, 3, and 4 yards, bringing up 3rd and 3. With LSU sending the house, Auburn blocked everyone. Irons juked for 12, and a first down at the LSU 21! In came Brad Lester, and he was stuffed for no gain. On second and long, Cox stood in, and took a vicious hit. Cox got the ball off, though, a perfect strike on the wheel route to Carl Stewart, to the 2 yard line! Two handoffs to Irons got it to the shadow of the goal line, and then Cox sneaked in for the Auburn touchdown! John Vaughn nailed the extra point, and Auburn led LSU, 7-3, with 4:53 left in the third quarter!
Matt Clark’s last kickoff of the game sailed for a touch back, a perfect two for two, for Clark. LSU went to Justin Vincent up the gut, and Chris Browder stood him up and slammed him down for only a yard. Jemarcus Russell dropped twice to throw, and was mercilessly hounded by a ferocious Auburn pass rush! Josh Thompson, Antonio Coleman, SenDerrick Marks, and Pat Simms all surged into the backfield to attack the quarterback! Two balls sailed harmlessly incomplete! Chris Jackson’s punt was hooked out of bounds, for only 31 yards. Jordan Hare Stadium ROARED! LSU was on their heels, at this point.
From the Auburn 49, Auburn at first seemed to be driving towards a knock-out punch. Irons was snuffed for a loss by Glenn Dorsey on first down, but Cox completed back to back passes, to Prechae Rodriguez for 8, then Gabe McKenzie for 13, to keep the drive alive. Then, McKenzie came up early, costing the Tigers 5. A screen to Irons failed miserably, likewise on a dump to McKenzie, and LSU declined a holding penalty. On 4th and 15, Kody Bliss punted it out of bounds at the LSU 8 yard line.
LSU head coach Les Miles is not noted for his caution. On first down, against an 8-man Auburn rush, Jemarcus Russell dropped back into the end zone, under a heavy rush. Antonio Coleman hit Russell, but falling backward, Russell still got it to Bowe for 14. Seeing the blitz coming again, Russell hit the slant again to Doucet, for 17 into the Auburn secondary. As the 3rd quarter ran out, LSU was flagged for a false start. Russell dropped to throw again, and Auburn again sent the heat. A big pass was wiped out, when LSU was flagged for holding. Two subsequent short passes brought up 4th and 1. Miles elected to punt, and Chris Jackson’s punt rolled into the end zone for a touch back.
Auburn took over, still leading 7-3, with 13:20 left in the game. An end-around to Courtney Taylor started the drive, as Taylor cut it up and picked up 11. Irons picked up 5, but then Cox was bashed to the ground again, a sack losing 6 yards. On 3rd and 11, Cox tossed one over the middle, to Courtney Taylor, who came up just inches short at the Auburn 40. Tuberville rolled the dice, and Cox sneaked forward for 2, and a first down! Next, Auburn went play action, and Cox threw a fade down the left side, for Taylor. Taylor made the catch, but on a strange call, was flagged for offensive interference. Replay showed minimal contact. Glenn Dorsey and Chase Pittman broke through on a draw, and smoked Kenny Irons for a 4 yard loss. On 3rdand 29, Cox just heaved it. Jessie Daniels picked it off for LSU, but it was the Bengal Tigers’ turn for a phantom interference flag. That gave Auburn a new set of downs at the Auburn 38. Irons picked up 4, then 5, bringing up 3rd and 1. Auburn hadn’t been stopped all day, on short yardage runs, but this time, they went with a pass to a freshman tight end. McKenzie was covered, and it brought up 4th down. Kody Bliss punted short, and Chevis Jackson fair-caught at the LSU 19.
LSU took over with 6:19 left in the game, trailing by 4. Time was becoming a factor. Broussard got a yard, then Russell found Craig Davis for 8. On 3rd and 1, Broussard hammered for 2. Then, Russell got time to throw on first down. Deep downfield, Russell connected with wide-open Early Doucet, in front of freshman Jerraud Powers. Doucet was out of bounds, after a 37-yard gain. Despite a rookie cornerback in the game playing WAY off, LSU pounded Vincent, then Hester, running clock and bringing up 3rd and 9. Russell tried to take off, but was tripped up for only a yard, by Marquies Gunn. At the Auburn 31, on 4th and 8, with only 2:46 left in the game, LSU called timeout to get a play in. Russell bombed one deep for Doucet, but it was knocked away by before it got there, by Eric Brock! Behind the play, Doucet was MUGGED, by an Auburn defender, and it appeared to be well before the ball arrived. A flag was thrown, and I think everyone watching figured LSU had a first down. An endless official discussion followed. In the end, the refs picked up the flag, without a satisfactory explanation. At the very least, it was defensive holding. In the aftermath of the game, the SEC office exuberantly declared that the right call had been made, without exactly saying what that right call was. Over the years, we Auburn fans have (often rightly, I think!) claimed that refs robbed us on calls. (William Andrew’s non-touchdown against UGA, 1978. The clock run-out against UGA in 1992. A horrible spot on 4th down in the waning seconds against Bama in 1994. UGA getting a free play, after a sack, with no timeouts left, to hit the hail Mary in regulation, in 1996.) This time, it was a horrible call, in Auburn’s favor, at least to my eyes. I guess those things even out. I hope. Auburn had the ball, with 2:43 left in the game, at the 31.
Auburn was content to leave it with Irons, 3 times, for 3 yards. LSU burned the remainder of their timeouts. Kody Bliss punted it away, and hit a towering shot for 51 yards, that Chevis Jackson fair caught at the 20. LSU had one more chance, with 1:11 left on the clock, trailing 7-3.
There was the issue of Auburn’s secondary, though. The Tigers had a freshman free safety, Aaron Savage, and a freshman corner, Jerraud Powers, in the game. Russell misfired on first down, but connected for an easy 20 yards to Craig Davis on 2nd down. The huge cushion in front of Powers remained, and Russell and Davis gouged it again, for 21. Just like that, LSU was at the Auburn 39, having burned only a few seconds. From there, Will Muschamp dialed up the blitz again. Karibi Dede tripped Russell up just behind the line! With no timeouts left, LSU was forced to line up and spike it! That brought up 3rd and 11. Again facing soft coverage, Russell fired underneath to Dwayne Bowe, for 21, down to the Auburn 19. The first down stopped the clock, and LSU hurried to the line. From there, a mistake. A false start backed it up, and the clock was running. It seemed to take forever for LSU to line up again, and Russell spiked it with under 10 seconds left. A field goal was no help. On the last play of the game, Russell threw down the left side, short of the goal line, to Craig Davis. Davis caught it, but was butted down, at the 4 yard line, by Eric Brock! The game was over! Auburn had held on! At the end, it was Auburn left standing, 7-3, in a defensive battle for the ages!
Both teams left the game battered and bruised. It was one of the most violent games I’ve ever witnessed. Neither team had enough left to make it through to the SEC title game. Arkansas stole into Atlanta, having ridden Gus Malzhan’s Wild Hawg to a 7-0 SEC start.
LSU staggered away with the loss, and punched down Tulane and Mississippi State easily. Urban Meyer’s Leak/Tebow tag team was another matter, though. The Gators won by 13 in Gainesville, and with two SEC losses, LSU was out of the title game. LSU gained a measure of redemption, as they knocked off West Champ Arkansas in Little Rock, in the regular season finale. LSU received an at-large BCS bid to the Sugar Bowl, and demolished Charley Weiss’ Notre Dame squad, 41-14. LSU finished 11-2, and 3rd in the nation. The Tigers were the odds-on favorite to win the SEC title, in 2007.
Auburn’s wounds from the LSU game were readily apparent, over the next three games. The battered D struggled to stop the Buffalo Bulls, and the offense barely managed 10 points in the first half. In Columbia the following weekend, Steve Spurrier moved a wide receiver to quarterback, and Auburn could not get him down. It took an onside kick after a field goal, to beat South Carolina. Against Arkansas at home, Auburn’s luck ran out. The Tigers imploded, taking an ugly 27-10 loss to Arkansas, that was not as close as the score indicated. On the heels of that disaster, the Tigers had to face the number two ranked team in the country, the Florida Gators. The situation looked dire. Folks were scanning the schedule, trying to calculate which teams Auburn might beat, to get into a bowl game. Could head coach Tommy Tuberville come up with another great game?