War Eagle, everybody! Time now for another in the series of Tommy Tuberville’s greatest games! Today’s game features the theme of “second chances.” When we last visited Tommy Tuberville’s career, he was completing a dramatic turn-around with a big win in Tuscaloosa. With high expectations for the following season, Auburn instead lost five games in 2003, and Tommy hung onto his job by the barest of margins. With a new lease on life, and new offensive coordinator Al Borges, the Tigers were hoping to right the ship in 2004.
One could make a case for several of the 2003 games being featured in this space, but given the national championship expectations for this team, none really qualifies as a “great game.” Sure, there were exciting wins over Tennessee, and Arkansas; a ten-win team and a nine-win team. There was the “Go crazy Cadillac” Iron Bowl. But against UT, it basically took a ball that slipped out of Casey Clausen’s hand to win, even though we held ‘em to 4 rushing yards, and rushed for 264. The UT win was not really a great game. We only managed one touchdown against Arkansas, while they moved into Auburn territory all day. The clock, or downs, ran out on the Razorbacks 5 times in the game, they missed a field goal, and fumbled it away once. As fun as the win over the Tide was, eeking out a 5 point win at home, over a 4-7 team, is not a “great game.” And so, onto 2004!
Auburn fans were cautiously optimistic in 2004, as Tommy Tuberville had done possibly the best recruiting job during his tenure: He convinced seniors Carlos Rogers, Carnell Williams, and Ronnie Brown, to return for another year. All three had been NFL draft-worthy at the end of 2003. 2004 started with a lackluster 31-0 beating of Louisiana Monroe, and a bit of an improvement on the road in Starkville, with a 43-14 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Still, a couple of problems still seemed to be carrying over from 2003, most notably, dropped balls. There were as many as ten dropped balls against the Bulldogs. Now, the undefeated, defending national champion LSU Tigers were headed to town, for a September 18th slugfest.
LSU was the favorite in the SEC West, as usual, but had gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, surviving Oregon State in overtime in the home opener, 22-21. The Beavers led for most of the game, but missed 3 extra points, and at times, had seemed to have the Tigers closed out in Baton Rouge! The following week, LSU destroyed Arkansas State in a 53-3 tune-up. LSU was struggling on offense, as quarterback Matt Mauck had left the team early for the NFL draft. The heir apparent, Marcus Randle had struggled in the opener, throwing an interception on his first pass of the season. A bit of a QB controversy was simmering, and both Randle and freshman Jamarcus Russell were getting playing time.
The weather leading up to the game was a huge story. Massive hurricane Ivan had battered the Gulf Coast, and cut a wide swath of damage through southern Alabama just 3 days before the game. With widespread power outages, and trees down all over the state, there was talk of postponing the game. Auburn and State of Alabama officials engineered a herculean clean-up effort, and with the urging of coach Tommy Tuberville, it was finally decided that the game would be played as scheduled. Gameday weather was sunny and warm, with a gusty breeze. This would be a nationally televised football game, on CBS.
Game recap, after the jump!
Auburn won the toss, and deferred to the second half. Phillip Yost kicked off through, and out of the endzone, and LSU would start at the 20. It didn’t take long for the Bengal Tigers to get rolling! LSU started by hammering the ball right at the middle of the Auburn defense. Justin Vincent and Marcus Randle alternated on carries, picking up 6, 5, 8, and 5 yards, for a couple of first downs. Near midfield, Auburn held Joseph Addai to 3, then Randle missed Dwayne Bowe on a screen. On 3rd and 7, Randle dumped it short to David Jones, who raced for 19 yards and a first down to the Auburn 34. Vincent plowed for 5 more, then an incomplete screen pass brought up 3rd and 5. Randle made another short throw, to Craig Davis, and Davis zipped outside for 12 more, and another first down, at the 17. A short Addai run, and a short pass to Jones brought up 3rd and 2. The Auburn defense tried to stiffen, but LSU ran a jet-handoff to Craig Davis, who picked up the first down to the 4 yard line. LSU survived a false start penalty, with Marcus Randle zipping a bullet pass over the middle to Dwayne Bowe for the score. The swirling winds got hold of the PAT, and Ryan Gaudet’s kick missed. LSU led 6-0, with 8:28 left in the first quarter.
LSU had made it look easy on the first drive, and Auburn desperately needed to do SOMETHING on offense, and keep the LSU machine off the field. Chris Jackson kicked off with a high boot, and Devin Aromashodu did not even get the ball back to the 20 for Auburn. Carnell Williams took the first carry up the gut for 5, but was buried for a big loss on a screen pass on the next play. On 3rd and 10, Jason Campbell threw high, but Courtney Taylor climbed the ladder and hauled in a 17 yard toss that kept the drive alive! Auburn again went with the give to Williams on first down, then the screen, and this time it worked a bit better. Williams picked up 7, then 19, and a first down at the LSU 38. Auburn swept it to Williams again, but this one was forced out of bounds for only 2. A slip screen to Ben Obamanu picked up 13, giving Auburn another first down at the LSU 23. Ronnie Brown got his first carry of the game, for 4 yards, then Campbell threw incomplete on a screen. On 3rdand 6, a quick screen to Courtney Taylor was apparently stopped well short by Lionel Turner, but Taylor kept churning his legs, and DRAGGED Turner forward! The play picked up 8, and yet another first down at the LSU 11. Carnell Williams took the give to the 6, then to the 5. On third down, LaRon Landry burst through on the blitz, and sacked Jason Campbell back out at the 12. In came John Vaughn, who just barely got the 29-yard kick over the pylon. It was close, but Vaughn got the call. With 1:37 left in the first quarter, LSU’s lead had been trimmed to 6-3.
After another Phillip Yost touchback, Jamarcus Russell entered the game for LSU. Justin Vincent got another easy 5, then Russell went play-action. A bullet to Craig Davis picked up 42 yards, with Carlos Rogers preventing a touchdown. Auburn linebacker Antarious Williams would end the quarter, blitzing and sacking Russell for a ten yard loss. At the end of one, LSU led Auburn, 6-3. Auburn would let LSU out of the 2nd and 20, though, when Junior Rosegreen was called for a 15-yard facemask. LSU went back to the ground, but Justin Vincent was planted in the turf for a yard loss, by Junior Rosegreen and Kevin Sears. A second-down screen missed, then Dwayne Bowe couldn’t handle a hot pass over the middle. Another Rosegreen hit knocked it out. LSU brought in long-range kicker Chris Jackson, who nailed the 42-yard field goal. LSU extended the lead to 9-3, with 13:48 left in the half.
Auburn, feeling the heat from LSU’s defensive line, started rolling Jason Campbell out. The first was a roll out for no gain, then a missed bomb to Courney Taylor. LSU was offsides on the bomb, so Auburn got 2nd and 5. Carnell Williams took a pitch play 17 yards for a first down. Campbell then tried to hit Ronnie Brown deep on a wheel route, but the pass was out of bounds. A 2nd and 10 run by Williams picked up 4, then Campbell’s screen for Williams on 3rd and 6 was incomplete. In came Kody Bliss, for Auburn’s first punt. A 44-yard boot was fair caught by Corey Webster, and LSU had the ball backed up on their own 10.
Two Justin Vincent runs picked up nothing, then Russell missed Joseph Addai out of the backfield. LSU was three and out, punting back to Auburn. Chris Jackson boomed it 52 yards, where Carnell Williams made the fair catch.
From the Auburn 37, a heavy dose of Ronnie Brown was dialed up. Brown rushed for 7, 8, 9, then 3 yards, and the Auburn Tigers were 1st and 10 at the LSU 36. Then, tight end Cooper Wallace was flagged for an illegal block, which backed up Auburn 15, effectively killing the drive. Carnell Williams got 7 on the draw, then a couple of short passes to Anthony Mix netted a total of 11. On 4th and 7, from the LSU 33, Tuberville played it close to the vest and sent in Kody Bliss to pin ‘em deep. Bliss’ kick rolled into the end zone for only 33 yards, and a touchback.
5:42 remained in the half, and LSU went back to Marcus Randle. Randle had cooled off, though, missing a first down pass to David Jones off the play-action. A quarterback draw went nowhere, then Randle missed Craig Davis on the sideline. LSU was again three and out. On the punt, a 12-yard Tre Smith return was wiped out by an illegal block.
With 4:21 left in the half, Auburn took over on their own 38, and Troy Reddick false-started. Carnell Williams dug Auburn out of the hole, with a 22 yard sprint off left end. Jason Campbell was then flushed out, and tripped up after only a yard. A slant to Aromashodu was behind him, incomplete. Then, Lionel Turner fired in on 3rd and long, and sacked Campbell for a loss of 7. Kody Bliss came in, and punted it to Corey Webster at the LSU 8. Webster tried to take off, and Carlos Rogers slung him down on the spot!
Backed up at the 8, with 2:03 left, Nick Saban elected to run the half out battering at Auburn’s front seven. Vincent for 3, Randle on the keeper for 12, Vincent for 4, then Alley Broussard for 9, and the clock ran out. At the half, LSU led Auburn, 9-3.
At the half, Auburn was still in the game, but the hold felt tenuous. With the opening scoring drive, LSU had taken control. The game had devolved into a gut-punching battle. It was like a fight, where the bigger kid falls on top of the smaller guy, and the two wrestle on the ground. LSU was on top, but Auburn was gamely fighting back from underneath. LSU couldn’t quite get the knockout or the pin, but Auburn’s position was definitely not the greatest. Could the Tigers hang on in the second half? Could they find some offense besides the occasional 20-yard run by Brown or Williams?
To start the second half, after a Chris Jackson touchback, Auburn stayed on the ground, for a 3 and out. Two Williams handoffs netted 5, then a quarterback draw was snuffed out for nothing, by Kirston Pittman. In came Kody Bliss, who boomed it 49 yards, where Webster fair-caught.
LSU took over at the 27, and seemed headed for paydirt, as Alley Broussard burst off the left side for 15, bowling Auburn defenders over. Despite rushing success, LSU rolled Randle out, for a 2 yard gain. Then, Randle dropped to throw on 2nd and 8. Around the corner from the back side, came Stanley McClover, and he poked the ball out! T. J. Jackson fell on the ball for Auburn! The Tigers had it, at the LSU 42!
Two Carnell Williams runs brought up 3rd and 1, and then Williams was spilled in the backfield by Kyle Williams. LSU was NOT going to let Auburn beat them on the ground! Kody Bliss pinned LSU deep at the 5 yard line, with the punt.
LSU seemed to have learned their lesson on offense, and came out trying to pound it. Broussard pounded for 4, then 7, bashing for a first down. It was Broussard again, and he galloped through the Auburn defense for 38 yards, finally pushed out by Will Herring at the Auburn 46. Justin Vincent came in, and pounded for 5, then 2, to bring up a 3rd and 3. Marcus Randle scrambled for 4, and a new set of downs at the Auburn 35. Alley Broussard took it up the gut for 3, then the promising LSU drive derailed, and along with it, the LSU offense. First, Marcus Randle was knocked down for a yard loss on the keeper, by Junior Rosegreen. Then, LSU took successive false-start and personal foul penalties. On third and 28, Auburn’s Bret Eddins went right around two helpless LSU blockers, and crushed Marcus Randle on a flying, bruising tackle! The sack pushed the ball back to the LSU 38, and it knocked Randle out of the game. Chris Jackson punted it short, and it was downed at the Auburn 29.
Auburn went right to work, firing on the seam route to tight end Cooper Wallace, who picked up 30 quick yards to the LSU 41. Campbell then missed Courtney Taylor on the sideline, then Auburn was forced to burn a crucial timeout. On 2ndand 10, Campbell hit Taylor for 16 over the middle, and Auburn was 1st and 10 at the LSU 11! Carnell Williams got the give, but was stuffed by Kyle Williams after only a yard gain. Ronnie Brown bashed outside, and took it all the way down to the 3! On 3rd and 2, Auburn went play action, but couldn’t get it to Courtney Taylor in the end zone. On 4th and 2 from the 3 yard line, Auburn went for it. Campbell tried to loft it to Anthony Mix, in the back of the end zone, but the pass was too tall, and Auburn gave the ball up on downs at the LSU 3.
LSU started backed up, and a give to Alley Broussard was stuffed for a loss of one, by Travis Williams. Jamarcus Russell then threw two successive screens to Dwayne Bowe, working on Carlos Rogers. Bowe wriggled free on the second one, getting the ball out to the 12. The third quarter ended, with LSU still leading Auburn, 9-3. On 4th and 1 in a tight game, Nick Saban elected to punt. Chris Jackson punted short, and Carnell Williams fumbled it right back to LSU. Daniel Francis recovered, and set LSU up at their own 45. With new life, LSU ran Alley Broussard for 3, then Russell hit Early Doucet for 9 on the slant, and a first down at the Auburn 43. Tommy Jackson burst in and sacked Russell for a 3 yard loss, then Russell hit another slant to Doucet for 12. On 3rd and 1, Russell easily sneaked for 2. Russell missed Craig Davis on a first down pass, then an end-around to Xavier Carter was played perfectly by Junior Rosegreen, who nailed it for a loss of 1. On 3rdand 11, Russell could not hit Carter on the sideline. Chris Jackson’s punt rolled into the Auburn end zone, and the Tigers had dodged another bullet!
With 10:50 left in the game, still trailing, Auburn needed to have a sense of urgency on offense. Jason Campbell dumped a play-action pass to Anthony Mix for 10 and a first down, then a draw to Carnell Williams was buried for a 3 yard loss by Lionel Turner and Cameron Vaughn. A screen to Brown picked up only 5, bringing up 3rd and 8. Under intense pressure, Campbell could not connect with Ben Obamanu on the sideline. In came Kody Bliss again, and the sophomore hammered it 45 yards, to Skylar Green. Green tried to juke the initial contain, which was Carlos Rogers. Rogers was having none of it, and tripped Green up for a 4 yard loss. LSU started backed up again, at the 19.
9:17 remained in the game, and LSU opened with a 4 yard pounding up the gut by Broussard. Russell hit Dwayne Bowe on the hitch, for a first down at the 30. Handoffs to Broussard and Vincent were turned back, by the stout Auburn front, and Jamarcus Russell faced 3rd and 10. A deep bomb to Craig Davis was missed, and LSU had to punt again. Chris Jackson got off a short one, downed at the Auburn 41.
Auburn had the ball back again, and with only 6:37 left in the game, it was time to either score a touchdown, or lose. Jason Campbell went for the home run on first down, but Devin Aromashodu couldn’t get to it. Ronnie Brown then got the call on a sweep to the left, and Auburn blockers ROLLED over pass-defending Bengal Tigers! Brown powered his way for 20 yards, and a first down at the LSU 39! Another run to the left had LSU backpedaling, but Cameron Vaughn tripped Brown up after a gain of 6. Campbell dumped a screen to Carnell Williams for 3, bringing up 3rd and 1. Campbell kept it himself, pushing down to the LSU 26. A toss to Williams lost 2, as Corey Webster fired in for the tackle. Then, Jason Campbell missed Ben Obamanu twice, once on the sideline, then on a crossing pattern. With 4th and 12 at the LSU 28, and only 3:07 left on the clock, Auburn burned a timeout. Then, the Tigers came out, in the shotgun. They tried to roll Campbell to the right, but it was not blocked well. With no protection, Campbell hung in, and took a SHOT as he let the ball go. The pass was perfectly thrown, at the back shoulder of Courtney Taylor, where no defender could get to it. Taylor hauled it in, for 14 yards, to the LSU 14, and a first down! Auburn blockers seemed to be out of gas, on first down, as Kyle Williams effortlessly slid through the line, and dived at Carnell William’s feet. On the toss sweep, Williams lost 3. On 2nd and 13, Campbell dumped it short to Anthony Mix, who was hit immediately by Ronnie Prude, and the ball popped out! Mix got it back, though, and Auburn was 3rd and 12 at the LSU 16. Auburn came out in a 5-wide set, and inexplicably, LSU did not blitz. Campbell dropped back, set up in the pocket, and floated one over the zone, to a wide-open Courtney Taylor in the back of the endzone! TOUCHDOWNNNN, Auburnn! The game was tied at 9-9, and in came Vaughn, with 1:14 left in the game. The snap on the PAT was low, and Vaughn knuckled the kick off to the right, no good, leaving the score tied. However, LSU’s Ronnie Prude was flagged for jumping up, and falling on an Auburn blocker. With the questionable call, Vaughn got a second chance, and banged it though! Auburn now led, 10-9!
Phillip Yost kicked off to the LSU 4, and Xavier Carter ran sideways, and was nailed by Tre Smith back at the 13. LSU, needing a field goal to win, was backed up. It didn’t last long, though. Freshman Jamarcus Russell RIPPED a throw over the middle to Craig Davis, for 21. Then, Russell fired another perfect strike to Dwayne Bowe on the sideline, and Bowe flat dropped it. A missed throw to Corey Webster in the flat brought up 3rd and 10. Russell calmly found Craig Davis for 13 in the flat, and another first down. Auburn was giving the LSU receivers a lot of room! From the LSU 47, Russell went deep to Early Doucet, but couldn’t get it in there, with 3 Auburn defenders in place. A screen to Early Doucet followed, and Travis Williams and Karibi Dede stopped Doucet a yard short of the first down. On 3rd and 1, LSU burned a timeout, with only 16 seconds left in the game. LSU was at the Auburn 44, and needed about 10 more yards to get into field goal range. And, LSU did have one timeout remaining. Out of the shotgun, on 3rd and 1, Russell fired on the slant to Early Doucet, slightly behind him. Doucet wheeled to catch it, and it went off his hands, up into the air. The ball was INTERCEPTED, by Junior Rosegreen, who wisely went to ground to secure possession! Auburn had the football, with only 9 seconds left! Jubilation on the Auburn sideline resulted in a personal foul penalty on the home team, and Auburn’s final snap in the victory formation took place back at the 23. Jason Campbell took a knee, and it was over! Auburn had stunned the defending national champion LSU Tigers, 10-9!
LSU continued to be a powerful team, throughout the year, but inconsistent quarterbacking hurt them at times. Two weeks after the Auburn loss, LSU suffered a meltdown in Athens, and got bombed by the Georgia Bulldogs, 45-16. It would be LSU’s last loss of the regular season. Despite being in close games, LSU learned how to win, all over again. Close victories over Florida, Troy, and Ole Miss powered LSU to a 9-2 record, and a New Years Day date in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. With Nick Saban already committed to move to the Miami Dolphins, LSU fought a see-saw battle with Iowa, only to give up a 58-yard touchdown pass on the last play of the game, and lose, 30-25. LSU would finish 9-3, looking for a new head coach.
More than anything, the win over LSU gave the Auburn team confidence. They had gone toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the nation, and won. In big games to follow, Auburn would play with a swagger on both sides of the ball. Auburn was off to a great start, in 2004, and was now the front runner in the SEC Western Division.