An Auburn Legend.
Dameyune Craig was an amazing player.
War Eagle, everybody! March is upon us, as we trudge through the long football off-season. This week’s Auburn football news centered on Auburn’s Pro Day, and how former Tigers did in their auditions before NFL Scouts. One of the more interesting items was that former Auburn quarterback Dameyune Craig was on the field throwing passes from the receivers. It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 15 years since he was on the field for the Tigers, leading a 4th quarter comeback against the Clemson Tigers in Atlanta.
Craig came into Auburn as a true freshman in 1993, but was buried on the depth chart and redshirted during the Tigers’ magical 11-0 season. I think the inclination of the coaches at that time was that he might eventually end up playing receiver or safety. Ahead of him that fall were Stan White, Patrick Nix, Patrick Sullivan, and John Cooley.
During spring drills in 1994, any notions of moving Craig to another position vanished. He made play after play in scrimmages, and surged past most of his competition. Craig ended up in a neck and neck race with Patrick Nix, but it was Nix who ended up starting, as head coach Terry Bowden decided that he wanted the more experienced man on the field.
Craig did get one chance to win a game in 1994, during the famous “interception game” against LSU. The Auburn offense could hardly knock out a first down in that one, and all of Auburn’s scoring had been courtesy of the defense. Terry Bowden yanked Patrick Nix in the 4th quarter, and put Craig in. Unfortunately, Craig could do no better, as LSU ends were terrorizing a very young set of Auburn tackles, true sophomore Willie Anderson, and true freshman Victor Riley. LSU kept throwing it, and Auburn kept picking them off for touchdowns, that day.
After the interception game, Bowden and company refocused on Patrick Nix, and he worked deep into blowouts against East Tennessee State and Kentucky. Then Nix had big days against Mississippi State and Florida on the road, and there was little chance for Craig to do more than mop-up duty the rest of the way in 1994.
More of Craig’s history, after the jump!
In 1995, there was once again a spirited spring battle at quarterback, but again Nix was selected. Nix was an Auburn legend himself by that time, having led Auburn to huge upsets of Alabama in 1993, and Florida in 1994. Bowden did wisely get Craig on the field, though. In his sophomore season, Craig became the short yardage specialist quarterback. Auburn had a diverse jumbo package in those days, and mixed together a nice combo of sneaks, fullback belly plays, tailback handoffs, and quarterback bootlegs off the fake. With Craig running the show, Auburn was not stopped on 3rd and 1 or less all season.
The next year, Dameyune Craig was unquestionably the man. The 1996 team was going to be tough, though, for any quarterback. Auburn was having to replace four starters on the offensive line, as well as star tailback Steven Davis. Auburn opened with UAB that season, and the Auburn line opened the flood gates on Craig. It was a rough first start, as Craig rushed for only 6 yards, and was 18 of 32 through the air with no touchdowns and two interception. In addition to the UAB blitz, coach Terry Bowden had tried to sneak through this game with a very simple plan. The Tigers did win, 29-0.
The next week, Bowden handed the keys to the offense to Craig, and opened it up. Fresno State was coming to town, and ESPN pundit Lee Corso picked them to beat Auburn. Craig hit 19 of 24 passes, and Auburn ripped out to a 42-0 halftime lead, en route to a 62-0 blowout. The full-on Craig offense had racked up 588 yards.
Craig’s first road trip as the starter was the next week, in Oxford against Tommy Tuberville’s Ole Miss Rebels. The Tigers had trouble with a pesky Rebel offense, but Craig passed for 249 and 3 touchdowns in that one, and Auburn outlasted Ole Miss 45-28 to start 3-0.
Next up was LSU, and again the Auburn offensive line struggled. Craig rushed for just 4 yards, was sacked 3 times, and passed for only 121. And this was the night that the old sports arena burned down. With the Tigers trailing 10-3 late in the 3rd quarter, Craig was knocked out of the game by a vicious blow to the head. Backup Jon Cooley led Auburn to a couple of touchdowns, but also threw three back-breaking interceptions. Auburn lost to LSU 19-15, despite the Auburn defense limiting LSU to just 241 yards of total offense. Craig’s job was safe.
In this day and age, Craig probably would have sat out the next game against South Carolina. He looked shaky for much of the first half, as South Carolina took a 7-0 lead. Late in the half, Robert Baker took a punt and went the distance with it, then Craig shook off the cobwebs and worked his magic. He escaped a sure sack with 3 defenders all over him, and fired a 51 yard dart to Tyrone Goodson to give Auburn a 14-7 halftime lead. South Carolina dominated the 3rd quarter, and took a 21-14 lead. Craig led the Tigers back, scoring twice in the 4th quarter to give Auburn a 28-24 victory.
The next week in Starkville, Auburn had no fullbacks or tight ends healthy, so coach Bowden sat ’em all out, and ran the shotgun every play. Craig excelled, shredding the hapless Bulldogs for 394 passing yards, and Auburn rolled to a 49-15 victory and a 5-1 record.
In the Swamp, Craig and company ran into a brick wall. Steve Spurrier had brought in defensive wizard Bob Stoops to run the Florida Gator defense. Stoops believed in pressure, and man to man coverage. Florida’s talented blitzers ate Auburn’s offensive line alive. Craig finished hitting only 7 of 28 passes, and only 50 total yards of offense. Florida pounded Auburn, 51-10.
Auburn used a well-scheduled off week to work on its running game, and get some folks healthy. The Tigers spotted Arkansas an early touchdown, then ground to a 28-7 win. Craig was efficient, rushing for 54 yards and passing for 185.
Next up was homecoming, against the Northeast Louisiana Indians, who are now known as the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks. Craig and company ripped easily down the field on the first drive, as Craig skipped into the end zone on an 11 yard run. After that, the Tigers fell asleep. The Indians led 14-10 at the half, and 14-13 at the end of the third. And they kept scoring in the 4th quarter, getting a touchdown and a field goal against Auburn’s wilting defense. Craig brought the Tigers back with two touchdown drives and a two point conversion, and the Tigers pulled it out, 28-24.
The Georgia Bulldogs came to town next, and Craig had the Auburn offense running like a machine in the first half. Craig threw for 3 first half scores. Auburn led 28-7, and was calling timeout late in the half, looking for more points. Then Craig had a disastrous fumble deep in Auburn territory, and Georgia got a cheap score out of it. In the second half, Auburn was held to just a single field goal drive, which Jarrett Holmes missed.
The Tiger defense tried to hold on, but Georgia came on strong in the 4th quarter. Still, Auburn should have won this game. Auburn led 28-21 very late, and Jimmy Brumbaugh broke through the Georgia line, and sacked Mike Bobo. The ball came loose after Bobo hit the ground. The clock was under 10 seconds, and Georgia was out of timeouts. It was very unlikely Georgia would even be able to line up. Two Georgia players started swatting the loose ball around, then Auburn’s Charles Dorsey picked it up. The zebras then stopped the clock, and let Georgia get a free timeout. Bobo hit a hail Mary to Corey Allen, and the game went to overtime. After four overtime periods, Georgia came out on top, 56-49.
The Iron Bowl was the next week, and the Tigers opened the game looking like they were still tired from the past week’s marathon. Alabama ran up and down Legion Field scoring points in the first quarter, and took a 17-0 lead. Dameyune Craig never gave up. In the face of relentless pressure, Craig delivered a perfect fade pass to Karsten Bailey, for a 57-yard touchdown. Craig had help from the defense in the second quarter, as defensive end Mark Smith entered the game. Smith had been out for weeks with a bad knee, but limped into this game, and really got after Alabama’s Freddie Kitchens. A few hard licks later, and Bama’s offense ground to a halt. Safety Brad Ware picked off a Kitchens ball thrown up for grabs, and ran it back for a twisting turning score. Bama fumbled the kickoff, and a Jarrett Holmes field goal put Auburn up 20-17 at the half.
In the second half, the Tigers tried to play it conservative. Auburn nursed a 23-17 lead for most of the rest of the game. Still, time and again the Tigers could not knock out a first down. Alabama got the ball back one last time with 2:14 left in the game, and drove for the winning score. The Tigers fell 24-23, and Alabama was headed to Atlanta.
With a 7-4 record, Auburn was left with the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana. Auburn’s opponent was the Army Cadets, which generated more than the usual national buzz for this game, played on New Year’s Eve afternoon. Craig had a monster game in front of a national television audience. His two touchdown passes in the first half had staked Auburn to a 20-0 lead. Meanwhile, Bill Oliver’s defense had stifled the Army flex-bone option game. Army went to the 2-minute drill late, and cashed it for a score, and Auburn led 20-7 at the half.
More Craig heroics ensued in the third quarter. A wild 33 yard Craig scramble put Auburn up 26-7, then Rusty Williams capped a drive with an 18 yard run to give Auburn a 32-7 lead at the end of the third. Then, the Auburn wheels came off. Army ran through the Auburn defense like a hot knife through butter and cut it to 32-14. The Tigers then suffered a disastrous interception and long return, which set Army up at the Auburn 17 yard line. Army punched it in on the ground, and the Auburn lead was down to 30-21.
Army tried the onside kick with about 5 minutes left, but Auburn recovered. The Tigers ground out a couple of first downs, but the drive ended on 4th and 6 at the Army 29 yard line. A safe pass to Willie Gosha was incomplete, and Army had 3 minutes left. A couple of long passes to Rod Richardson later, Army was in the end zone again, and they converted the 2-pointer. Trailing 32-29, the Cadets again onside kicked, and this time they got it back. Army made it to the Auburn 10 yard line, but the clock was winding down. A last second field goal attempt from 27 yards failed, and Auburn had survived, 32-29. Lost in the disappointment of the near-meltdown were Craig’s stats. He had 370 passing yards, and 75 on the ground. That 445 yard day still stands as the all-time Auburn total offense record.
The Tigers finished Dameyune Craig’s junior year at 8-4, and ranked 20th in the nation. There were rumblings of discontent in the Auburn nation, but a forgotten fact was that the juniors and seniors on this team were signed under a cloud of probation, and scholarship limitations a few years back. This team featured Craig and a tough bunch of juniors who finished the year determined to get back to playing championship-level ball the next season. Next week, we’ll take a look at Dameyune Craig’s magnificent senior season.