War Eagle, everybody! Time now for another look back, at Tommy Tuberville’s greatest games. Much like the current week we are living through, 1999 in early November was a dark time for Auburn. Auburn had lost five games in a row, and nearly a 6th, to Central Florida at homecoming. Gene Chizik’s Central Florida defense dominated the Auburn offense for 55 minutes in that one, then the Knights imploded, as Auburn rattled off 3 touchdowns in the last 5 minutes of the game, to win 28-10. A struggle against Central Florida didn’t give much hope, going into a tough matchup in Athens, against the 14th ranked Georgia Bulldogs. Auburn was 4-5 going into that game, and 2-5 in the SEC. If there was a glimmer of hope at all, it was that Auburn’s starting quarterback Ben Leard had recovered from shoulder and concussion injuries suffered earlier in the year, and would be back in the starting lineup for the Tigers.
Georgia came into the game with a 6-2 mark, but they were coming off a disappointing 30-14 loss to Florida in Jacksonville. Since the departure of Vince Dooley, the Dawg faithful were looking for a coach who could beat Florida and Tennessee. The Bulldogs had not beaten Tennessee since 1988, Dooley’s last year, and since then, had only beaten Florida twice; in 1989, and 1997. Georgia’s losses were to Tennessee (37-20 in Knoxville), and Florida. Also, there had been a couple of narrow escapes that did not sit well with Bulldog fans, such as the overtime game against Central Florida. In a controversial move before the season, Bulldog head coach Jim Donnan had demoted defensive coordinator Joe Kines, and had named defensive backs coach Kevin Ramsey as defensive coordinator. Ramsey’s defense was aggressive, but prone to giving up big plays against the better offenses. It was a blitz, and play press coverage, every down, philosophy.
Game recap, after the jump!
It was a perfect day for football in Sanford Stadium, with a temperature just after sunset of 62 degrees, and clear skies in Athens. The game was on ESPN2, as neither team was now relevant in the championship chase. Georgia won the toss, and deferred to the second half. Had they known what was coming, they’d likely have made a different decision…
After a touchback, Auburn opened on the ground. Tim Carter took the pitch on an end around, and had a quick Auburn first down. Two Heath Evans runs put Auburn in a 3rd and 10, but Ben Leard found Tavarious Robinson for a first down at the Auburn 47. Quickly, Auburn was facing third and long again, but again, Tavarious Robinson beat the Georgia press to haul in another Leard pass for another first down, at the Georgia 42. A facemask call on the Bulldogs got it to the 37, but soon Auburn was facing 4th and 5 after Markeith Cooper dropped a sure first down. Rather than have Duval try to hit a 54-yarder, Tuberville opted to go for it. Again, it was Tavarious Robinson, breaking the Georgia press, and taking the Leard pass down to the UGA 25. Auburn went to the air on first down, this time, and Leard connected with Ronney Daniels, down to the Georgia six yard line. On second and goal, Leard hit Clifton Robinson for the slot receiver’s first career Auburn touchdown! Damon Duval’s extra point gave Auburn a 7-0 lead, and the Tigers had taken 14 plays to do it!
After a Damon Duval touchback, Georgia knocked out a quick first down, but then Quincy Carter was hit in the back field, and lost the ball, defensive end Quinton Reese recovered for Auburn, and took it to the UGA 30! After a Clifton Robinson run for a loss, and a sack of Ben Leard, Auburn was looking at 3rd and 19. Leard found Marcel Willis underneath, to the Georgia 24. It was 4th and 4, and Tuberville rolled the dice again. This time, UGA held, as Tavarious Robinson was stopped 2 yards short after the catch. The Auburn defense rose to the occasion, though, forcing a three and out, and Auburn got a short punt from the Dawgs. Auburn would take over at the AU 40, with 3 or so minutes left in the first quarter.
Auburn quickly faced third and 6, and here came the Georgia press again. This time, Leard looked inside, and hit Markeith Cooper, who broke away for a LONG gain, down to the Georgia 11. From the 11, a three man combo route, and a short throw from Leard to Cooper again, resulted in an Auburn TOUCHDOWN! After Damon Duval’s extra point, the Tigers held a shocking 14-0 lead late in the 1stquarter! Alarmingly for the Bulldogs, the Georgia defense was having a LOT of trouble out of 3 Auburn true freshmen receivers, Tavarious Robinson, Marcel Willis, and Ronney Daniels. Georgia was pressing every down, and Auburn was using a variety of combination routes, and fades, and UGA defensive coordinator Kevin Ramsey had no answer, but to stick with the press.
As the first quarter came to a close, Quincy Carter had hit Michael Greer twice, and the Bulldogs were into Auburn territory. The Georgia success would not last. On third and short, Auburn linebacker Kenny Kelly would blow through, and pull Patrick Pass down for a five yard loss. Georgia punted the ball down to the ten yard line, where Auburn would start backed up.
90 yards from pay dirt? No problem for Leard and the Tigers, this day. First, Heath Evans exploded out for a quick 31 yard run. Then, under intense pressure, Leard lofted up a deep go-route pass, that Ronney Daniels caught. Daniels broke away from the hapless Jeff Harris, and was GONE for the touchdown! Press, Dawgs, press! After Damon Duval’s extra point, the rout was on, 21-0, with 12:43 left in the half!
The Georgia offense continued to come unglued after a Duval touchback. A sack, a delay of game penalty, a throw away, then a short punt followed. Auburn was back in business at the UGA 49, but another promising drive was ended when Ben Leard was sacked by Charles Grant, and lost the football. Grant came up with the fumble, and nearly got away for a touchdown. Heath Evan’s quick tackle saved Auburn, but UGA had the ball now, at their own 43. It was not to be the Bulldogs’ half, though. A one-yard Jasper Sanks run, and two more incomplete Carter passes, and the Dawgs had to punt it away again.
Auburn took over on its own 22, after a fair catch. Georgia was STILL pressing outside, and Noel Mazzone went to the air on first down. Ben Leard cranked it up again for Ronney Daniels, who had beaten the press. Daniels hauled it in, and set sail for a ridiculously easy 78 yard touchdown! For an exclamation point, Daniels dunked the ball over the crossbar, drawing a 15-yard flag. Duval’s point after was good, and with 6:12 left in the half, Auburn now led 28-0!
Quincy Carter tried to answer for the Dawgs, finding Terrence Edwards for a first down out to the UGA 38, then Carter connected with Jermaine Phillips into Auburn territory. Things still weren’t going right for the Bulldogs, though, as Rodney Crayton cracked Phillips, and the ball was out at the Auburn 37. Adlai Trone recovered for the Tigers, and they were back on offense again.
Auburn ate the rest of the 2nd quarter clock, with a long drive to 1st and goal at the Bulldog 4 yard line. A tight end bootleg sailed incomplete, then Leard was sacked. A third down pass to Marcel Willis ended just short of the goal line. Tuberville sent in Damon Duval, who kicked Auburn to a 31-0 lead at halftime! The Dawg secondary had been officially torched. Would they adjust?
In the second half, Georgia started with good field position, as Damon Duval kicked the ball out of bounds. Quincy Carter drove the Dawgs to a 4th and 2 at the Auburn 39, and the Bulldogs went for it. Jasper Sanks was NAILED for a loss, by Marcus Washington, and Georgia turned it over on downs! Would the Dawgs continue their ineffective press coverage scheme?
Yes, they would. And so, Auburn’s Ben Leard went back to the air. His first pass was batted down at the line by Charles Grant, but on second down Leard lofted it up again. Ronney Daniels snared the throw about 10 yards down field, then DRAGGED Georgia defenders all the way down to the Georgia 3 yard line, a 57 yard gain! Heath Evans pounded it to the one, then Leard sneaked over for the Auburn touchdown! After Damon Duval’s point after, the Tigers were out to an incredible 38-0 lead over the Bulldogs, with 10:57 left in the 3rd quarter!
Georgia went to work again, and drove the ball to the Auburn 40. There would be no miracle stop or turnover, this time. Carter hit Terrence Edwards for a 40 yard Georgia touchdown. Hap Hines added the extra point, and Georgia had cut the Auburn lead to 38-7, with 7:12 left in the third quarter.
Aided by an offsides penalty, Auburn dialed back the deadly passing game, and went to work on the clock. 4 straight runs, two from Evans, and two from Rusty Williams knocked out a couple of first downs, then on the 5th straight run, Williams was dropped for a loss by by a swarming UGA defense that still had nine men in the box. Leard tried two straight passes towards Ronney Daniels, but by now Georgia had finally learned, and Daniels was swarmed down well short of the first down. Sammy Manno came in for Damon Duval, and punted the ball dead at the UGA 10.
Emboldened by the last score, the Dawgs started ripping off huge chunks of yardage. First, Patrick Pass burst through the line for 20, then Quincy Carter hit Terrence Edwards for another 20. The Auburn defense helped out, too, with facemask and offsides penalties to move UGA ahead even more. The 3rd quarter ended with Georgia at 3rd and6, at the AU 29. Auburn still had a commanding 38-7 lead.
In the 4th quarter, on 4th and 6, Quincy Carter would heave up a hail Mary, and Terrence Edwards came up with it for the UGA touchdown. Hap Hines booted the extra point, and the Auburn lead was cut to 38-14, with 14:50 left in the game.
Auburn knocked out one first down on yet another Leard-to-Daniels pass against the press, but on the new set of downs, the drive ended with a 3rd down sack of Ben Leard. Damon Duval came back in, and bombed a 48 yard, fair caught punt. UGA took over at their own 28.
Auburn got Georgia backed up on an illegal block penalty, but Quincy Carter hit Jermaine Phillips to bring up 4th and 3 at the UGA 35, then hit Michael Greer out to the 49 for the first down. Carter then fired another 20 yard strike to Terrence Edwards, then Auburn was flagged for pass interference, to set UGA up at the 16. Carter hit Terrence Edwards to set up first and goal, then took it in himself on the sneak. With 6:58 left in the game, the Auburn lead was now whittled to 38-21.
Auburn fired over the press for one first down, a rope to Lorenzo Diamond. But then the Tigers malfunctioned. First they took a delay of game on 3rd and 4. Then, after a run for no gain by Heath Evans, Auburn had folks scratching their heads after they used a timeout, giving Georgia more time, with 4:07 left. Sammy Manno was again sent in for Damon Duval, and he responded with one of the worst shanks in Auburn history. The ball only went 3 yards, and Georgia had it at their own 32.
Quincy Carter would come up with one more drive, moving the ball down to 4thand 7 from the Auburn 12. A last ditch, desperation pass to Randy McMichael fell incomplete, and the Tigers took over at the 12, with 1:21 left. Ben Leard had to take a knee three times, and the clock ran out. Auburn had defeated the 14th-ranked Bulldogs, in Athens, 38-21! Ben Leard set the all-time Auburn single game passing yardage record, with 416 on the day. Ronney Daniels had the second best day ever, for an Auburn receiver, with 9 catches for 246 yards.
In one game, the Bulldog season had gone from mild disappointment, to disaster. Jim Donnan was now officially under fire. A narrow win over Ole Miss the following week didn’t help much, and a 51-48 loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta INFURIATED Georgia fans. In that game, Georgia’s inflexible defense had been exploited again, and Donnan took massive criticism. It was seeming likely that Donnon would be fired on New Year’s day, 2000. In the Outback Bowl, Joe Tiller’s Purdue team exploited the same weakness, and rolled to a 25-0 lead over the Bulldogs. Jim Donnan was a dead man walking. Somehow, Georgia fought back, and won the game, 28-25. An 8-4 season was salvaged, and Donnan would survive to coach another year.
Auburn finished the year by hosting SEC West front-runner Alabama, needing to win to become bowl eligible. After a shaky start, Auburn dominated much of the second and third quarters, holding a 14-6 lead deep into the third quarter. After a 20 play Alabama drive ended on downs at the Auburn 6, Auburn failed to run the clock and rest an exhausted defense. Ben Leard would be sacked for a safety on 2nddown, and Auburn would give it right back to the Tide. Bama Coach Mike Dubose went to the I-formation, junking Charlie Stubbs’ spread-’em-out philosophy. Behind All-American tackle Chris Samuels, Bama would run Shaun Alexander over and over again. Bama bashed for 3 4th quarter touchdowns, and Auburn fell, 28-17. Auburn finished Tuberville’s inaugural season at 5-6.