The First Finger
War Eagle, everybody! Ready for something, ANYTHING, besides Inauguration and recruiting news? Today, we’ll review another one of Tommy Tuberville’s greatest games. You can’t really put “great,” and “Auburn coach” together in a sentence, unless that coach has a quality Iron Bowl win. On Saturday, November 23, Tommy Tuberville got that win, in Bryant Denny stadium. No one watching the hype leading up to this annual grudge match gave the Tigers a chance, against the 9th-ranked Crimson Tide.
Despite being on probation, Alabama coach Dennis Franchione had convinced his team to “hold the rope,” and hang tough. The Tide started the season with 4 wins and 2 losses. Both losses were close, to Oklahoma in Norman 37-27, and to Georgia in Tuscaloosa, 27-25. Both Oklahoma and Georgia would win their respective conferences, and finish in the top 5. After the last second field goal loss against Georgia, Alabama reeled off five straight dominating wins. The Crimson Tide were 9-2, entering the Iron Bowl. They were coming off a 31-0 blowout of LSU, in Baton Rouge; the second worst loss of Nick Saban’s LSU tenure. On the season, Alabama had already scored 339 points, and given up 167, an average victory of 30 to 15. Over the past two seasons, Auburn’s defense had shown difficulty in stopping the option. Franchione ran a complicated pro option that chewed up first downs, and produced a lot of big plays. On defense, Alabama had problems in the secondary early in the season, but had shored up the holes with the emergence of playmakers such as Charlie Peprah, Gerald Dixon, Freddie Roach, and Cornelius Wortham. The Tide had given up only 43 points during the five-game win streak.
For Auburn, it was a valiant season, that had returned from the brink halfway. However, the Tigers were fresh off a devastating home loss to the Georgia Bulldogs, a game that was won on a late TD pass on 4th and 15. The Tigers were 7-4, and fans were making plans for the holidays in Shreveport. Auburn was hurting, coming into this Iron Bowl, especially on offense. Injured, and unable to participate, were starting fullback Brandon Johnson, and Auburn’s top three tailbacks, Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, and Chris Butler. To compensate for the loss of Johnson, Auburn moved third team, redshirt freshman tight end Cooper Wallace to fullback, for the game. Getting his first start at tailback, was true freshman Trey Smith. With the diminutive Smith, and the lack of an experienced lead blocker, everyone figured that Auburn would operate from the shotgun on most plays. Auburn would continue to rely on young sophomore quarterback Jason Campbell. Campbell had a strong, accurate arm, but his receivers had been extremely inconsistent over the course of the season. If Auburn was to have any chance in the game, its hopes were on the defense. The Tiger defense had improved greatly over the course of the season, particularly against the run. A number of complicated stunts and shifts had been installed and polished up front, and this resulted in Auburn defenders running loose in opponent backfields, frequently.
Game recap, after the jump!
It was a bright, sunny day with clear blue skies, at Tuscaloosa, if a bit cool, at 53 degrees, with light wind. The game was on CBS, picked as a battle between the best teams of the SEC West. Alabama won the toss, and deferred to the second half.
Brian Bostick booted the ball into play, and the Iron Bowl was on! Roderick Hood mishandled the fluttering kick at the 2, but managed to scoop it up and run out to the 17. Surprisingly, Auburn opened in the I formation. Campbell and Marcel Willis missed on a slant pass, but on second down, Trey Smith took the give, and slithered up the gut for 9, close to a first down. On third and inches, Auburn went with a jumbo set, 3 tight ends, Lorenzo Diamond, Robert Johnson, and Anthony Mix. Campbell faked to Trey Smith, and successfully hid the ball behind his back, dropping back as if disinterested. Most of the Bama defense was completely fooled. Campbell loaded up a long pass for a wide-open Anthony Mix, which was held up a bit by the wind. Mix had to wait on the ball, and he was pulled down after the catch by Gerald Dixon, a touchdown saving tackle. Still, the play picked up 46 yards, and Auburn had a first down at the Bama 28! Auburn went to a 5 wide shotgun, and overthrew Marcel Willis on the corner route. Auburn went back to the I, and ran a counter to Trey Smith, who fumbled, and got it back at the Bama 27. On third and 9, Campbell was sacked, for a big loss, back at the Bama 41, by Kendal Moorehead. Damon Duval was brought in to pooch-kick, but the ball rolled in for a touchback. Auburn had driven it into Bama territory, but come up empty.
Alabama took over, and stepped up the pace. A quick count, and quick give to Santonio Beard picked up seven. Tyler Watts kept on the option and got the first down. Then it was Shaud Williams for 7. Watts play-faked, then checked down to Triandos Luke on the sideline for 9 more, and another first down at the Bama 48. On first down, Bret Eddins stunted inside for the Tigers, got in Watts’ face, and forced an incomplete throw. A second down Shaud Williams handoff was STUFFED, by Dontarrious Thomas, and Bama faced 3rd and 8. Against a ferocious Auburn blitz, Tyler Watts calmly dumped a jailbreak screen to Dre Fulgham, and Bama had 17 yards on the play, all the way down to the Tiger 33. A personal foul moved it back to the 48, but still enough for the first. The Bama offense seemed a step ahead, on most plays, in the chess-match. A tight end screen to Clint Johnson picked up another effortless 11 yards, and another first down. Then, the Tiger defense slammed the door. First, Santonio Beard was hauled down by Spencer Johnson and Mark Brown for only 2 yards. Then, Watts missed Triandos Luke on the sideline. On third down, Dontarrious Thomas crashed through the line, mowing the rolling Watts down for a sack. Bama faced 4th and 10, in no-man’s-land, at the Auburn 37. Franchione elected to go for it, rather than a short punt or long field goal attempt. Watts dumped off another screen, but this time, the Tigers were in zone, and forced Shaud Williams out after only a gain of 5! It was Auburn’s football on downs, with half the first quarter gone.
Again, to the disbelieve of everyone in the stadium, Auburn opened in the I-formation. Campbell handed to Trey Smith, and none of the defenders could find him. Smith burst off right tackle, and set sail down the middle of the field. Hirshel Bolden finally ran Smith down, but not before a 51 yard gain, and a Tiger first down at the Tide 16! Again Auburn gave it to Smith, up the gut for two. Then, the Tigers lifted both backs, and went with the 5-wide shotgun. One of the “wide” receivers was Robert Johnson. At the snap, Johnson crossed over the middle, leaving his defender in the traffic. Campbell dumped it short to Johnson, who was hemmed in by two Bama defenders. 275 pound Robert Johnson then put an INCREDIBLE juke move on the Bama players, and raced around them, into the end zone, for the Auburn touchdown! Damon Duval’s PAT was good, and the Tigers had first blood in the Iron Bowl. They led, 7-0, with 5:59 left in the first quarter!
Duval booted the kickoff down to the 1, and Triandos Luke brought it back out to the Tide 23, and the befuddling Bama offense went back to work. After a short Santonio Beard run, Tyler Watts hit Zach Fletcher on a screen that went for 14 yards, and Auburn then caught a personal foul on a late hit out of bounds. Bama was quickly set up at the Auburn 47. A counter play to Shaud Williams picked up another first down at the Auburn 34, with Spencer Johnson chasing it down from his tackle position. Auburn was having trouble with the Bama offense, but the Tide wilted near the red zone once again. First was a holding penalty, to back ’em up. Then Carlos Rogers zipped in and dumped Thurman Ward for a loss. Tyler Watts was forced deep on a counter-option to the short side, and Reggie Torbor dropped him for a five yard loss. On 3rd and 26, Bama was called for delay of game. On 3rdand 31, Dre Fulgham dropped a slip screen pass. After reaching the Auburn 30, Bama had to punt from their own 45. Lane Bearden kicked a low ball to the 14, where Roderick Hood fielded it, and weaved his way through some tight cracks, up the right side. Bearden, playing on a very gimpy knee, had to make the tackle after Hood picked up 36 yards, and appeared to be on the verge of breaking it for a TD. As it was, Hood set Auburn up with good field position at midfield.
Auburn’s surprising offense went back to work, with Campbell dumping one out in the flat to Jeris McIntyre for 6. On 2nd and 4, Auburn went to the shotgun, but handed off on a draw to Trey Smith, who gouged the Bama D for 11 more. Trey added 3 yards on the next play, then the Tigers went 5-wide again. Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino’s recipe for dealing with the Bama secondary was crossing routes, and Jason Campbell hit Ben Obamanu on one, for 17 yards and a first down at the Tide 13. Back to the I formation, and Trey Smith bashed for 2 yards. Then Auburn went back to the shotgun. With Auburn knocking at the door, Bama went with an all-out blitz. With five receivers to cover, Bama missed one, and that was Robert Johnson, who was wide open over the middle. Jason Campbell took the heat, and lofted the ball under pressure, to Johnson, who backed into the end zone for the Auburn touchdown! Damon Duval’s point-after was good, and the Tigers now held a shocking, 14-0 first quarter lead over the Crimson Tide!
Damon Duval, who came into the game struggling, boomed the kickoff nearly into the stands. Now down two touchdowns, Bama’s offense was feeling the pressure. At the end of the first quarter, Auburn led, 14-0! Tyler Watts opened the drive well, faking, and keeping on the option for a first down at the 30, but then the drive unraveled. A draw to Santonio Beard was blown up by Dontarious Thomas and Spencer Johnson for a loss. Watts again kept on the option, to bring up 3rddown and 7. Screens had been the order of the day with the Bama passing attack, and back to the screen they went. Roderick Hood had it sniffed out, and Watts could not connect with Triandos Luke. Lane Bearden was back in, to punt it away, and he pinned the Tigers back at the Auburn 17.
Auburn went after the Bama secondary again, as Campbell hit Marcel Willis, and Willis charged upfield for 18. Campbell hit two more crossing patterns, with a 4-yard Trey Smith run sandwiched in between. First Devin Aromashodu, then Robert Johnson, were the beneficiaries of Campbell aerials. On first down from the Tide 43, Campbell tried to take off, and lost a yard. On second and long, Campbell took off on a bootleg, and rumbled down to the Alabama 25, for another first down. Trey Smith only got 2 on the handoff and Auburn went back to the bootleg. This time, Robert Johnson dropped the pass. On third down, Campbell overthrew Johnson on the corner route. In came Damon Duval, and the Auburn nation held their collective breath. Duval delivered, knocking in a 40-yard field goal, and the Tigers extended their lead to 17-0, with 7:52 left in the half! How long could Alabama stick to a game plan featuring options and screens, trailing now by three scores?
Damon Duval booted another touchback, and Bama stuck to the plan. Santonio Beard ripped off an 11 yard run up the gut, and Tyler Watts optioned for 3. Bama then went back to the screens, but the Auburn corners had clamped down, and were playing tight press coverage. Watts missed Clint Johnson, then Sam Collins, and it was 4th down again. Lane Bearden got off a short punt, and Roderick Hood brought it back up to midfield.
On first down for the Tigers, Auburn went play action, and Bama blitzed hard. Jason Campell threw the ball away as he was going down, and was called for grounding. Auburn ran a predictable draw to Trey Smith on second and 17, but Smith wouldn’t go down, before picking up six yards. On 3rd and 11, Jason Campbell stepped up in the pocket, and fired a strike to Marcel Willis for 13, and a first down at the Bama 38. Auburn tried to run some clock, sending Trey Smith up the middle. Bama found him, this time, for no gain. Then, Campbell took a big sack, all the way back to the Auburn 48. Auburn ran a short draw to Trey Smith, to run the clock, then Damon Duval came in to punt. Duval tried to pin Bama deep, but the short, 29 yard punt didn’t even go out of bounds, and Shaud Williams took it back out to the Bama 27.
With only 2:36 left in the half, trailing 17-0, Coach Franchione lifted 5th year senior quarterback Tyler Watts, to put in a stronger arm. Freshmen Brodie Croyle came in, and dealt off a smoke-draw to Shaud Williams, that smoked the Tigers for 19. Croyle’s first pass attempt was right in the hands of Dre Fulgham, but was dropped. Croyle then found Shaud Williams in the left flat, and Williams took it for another first down at the Auburn 39. The Tide was on the move. Would they be able to crack the Auburn 30 yard line, this time? Croyle missed Clint Johnson over the middle, then a draw to Williams was STUFFED, by DeMarco McNeil. On 3rdand 11, Bama went deep, but Croyle could not connect with Dre Fulgham, who was closely guarded by Roderick Hood. On 4th down, Bama went for it, with Croyle hitting Shaud Williams on a short pass. Williams got close, but was down just short. Alabama turned it over on downs again, with only 33 seconds left in the half. Jason Campbell took a couple of knees, and Auburn went to the half, leading arch-rival Alabama, 17-0!
Damon Duval kicked off the second half, and again failed to reach the end zone. Triandos Luke took it out to the 29, where Bama would set up shop. Tyler Watts was back in, and on 2nd and 8, Watts hit Sam Collins on a crossing route for a 9 yard first down. It was Watts first real throw downfield, in the game. Santonio Beard ran twice, to bring up 3rd and 2. Then, Bama was flagged for false start. On 3rd and 7, Watts could not get it to Triandos Luke over the middle. Lane Bearden hobbled onto the field, and nine-ironed a short flutter-ball to Rod Hood at the Auburn 25. Hood was mugged before the ball got there, and Bama was flagged for punt interference, which set Auburn up at the 36.
The Tiger offense did not get off to a good start. First Trey Smith was buried for a loss, then Jason Campbell fired a ball directly to Bama’s Wayne Bacon, for the interception. Bama had the ball, at the Auburn 46. Tyler Watts hit Sam Collins over the middle for 17, then Bama survived a holding penalty, when Auburn returned the favor with a face mask. After some nifty Watts option running, Bama faced 2nd and 1, then 3rd and 1. Shaud Williams got outside, and wasn’t chased down till he got to the Auburn 7 yard line. Auburn stuffed Santonio Beard for a loss on the next play, but ANOTHER facemask penalty put Alabama first and goal inside the five. Bama pounded Santonio Beard twice more, and the big man took it in for the touchdown, with 6:40 left in the 3rd quarter. With Kyle Robinson’s kick, Bama had closed the deficit to 17-7. Time for the Tigers to move the ball!
Needing to run the clock, and get more points to answer Bama’s score, the Tigers made a valiant effort. Alabama jumped offsides on the first play of the drive, to help Auburn out. A second down Trey Smith carry knifed Bama for 14. Then Auburn was flagged for holding. A Campbell keeper and Trey Smith draw had the Tigers at 3rd and 10. Campbell hit Marcel Willis short, and Willis set sail for 28 yards, and a first down at the Bama 32. Campbell then tried a home-run ball to Devin Aromashodu, but couldn’t connect. A Trey Smith draw got nothing, then the bootleg pass to Robert Johnson was snuffed out by the Tide. Damon Duval was brought in for a LONG, 47 yard field goal attempt. Duval hooked it left, and the score remained the same, 17-7. Still, the 3rd quarter was nearly over.
Bama took over at the 31, and Tyler Watts immediately found Triandos Luke on the boundary for 21, and into Auburn territory. Then Watts optioned to Shaud Williams, and Carlos Rogers spun him down for a 5 yard loss. A short pass to Zach Fletcher brought up 3rd and 5 at the Auburn 43, as the 3rd quarter clock ran out. Auburn still led, 17-7. On 3rd down, Watts missed Sam Collins on a screen. Bama went for it on 4th down, and Watts dumped it to Shaud Williams, who was run out of bounds 4 yards short, by Horace Willis!
Auburn took over at its own 42, but could not do much. Bama had figured out that they needed to cover Robert Johnson. A second down draw to Trey Smith was bottled up. On third down, Campbell was sacked. Duval came in, and his punting woes continued, with only a 32 yard effort that was downed at the Bama 28.
Watts opened the drive with a sack, by a stunting Bret Eddins. Watts hit Sam Collins on the sideline, and Carlos Rogers forced Collins out short. Watts missed Fulgham on 3rd and 2, and it was decision time for Bama. They burnt a valuable time-out to think about it, then Watts got the first down himself on a 3 yard keeper. Watts again missed Collins on the throw, then was knocked woozy on a hit by Reggie Torbor. On top of that, Bama was flagged for holding, AND burned a timeout. In came Brodie Croyle. Croyle got some of the yardage back on a 9-yard scramble out of bounds, then threw incomplete for Dre Fulgham. Lane Bearden was in again to punt. By this time, Bearden could hardly walk on his game leg, but somehow boomed a 48-yarder, that Roderick Hook took 16 yards back out to the 28. Auburn had the ball again, with 10:09 left, and a ten point lead.
Auburn false-started to begin the drive, then Trey Smith was stuffed for no gain. On 2nd down and long, Jason Campbell took off on a designed quarterback draw, hook-sliding in just short of the first down. Roman Harper hit him while he was sliding, and that was a personal foul and 15 more yards on Bama. From the Tide 48, Smith was stuffed for a 2 yard loss, then Auburn false-started again. Another handoff to Smith picked up 5, bringing up 3rd and 12. Campbell kept, picking up 7, and kept the clock running. Auburn ran the play clock down to 1 second, then called timeout. Duval came in to pin Bama deep, but the punt rolled into the endzone for a touchback.
Bama’s options were dwindling, still down 10 points, with now only 6:07 left in the game. Bama had already burnt two timeouts, as well. Brodie Croyle was in, and hit Shaud Williams for 5, then 4. On 3rd and 1, Croyle dropped back, and was sacked by Spencer Johnson! That brought up 4th and 7, and Bama had to go for it. Croyle delivered, firing a strike to Dre Fulgham on the post. Fulgham picked up 41 yards, down to the Auburn 36. Auburn would not take it easy on Croyle, though. Mark Brown fired through, and sacked Croyle for a nine-yard loss. After that, Croyle was throwing it up for grabs. A desperation 4th down pass was picked off by Carlos Rogers at the Auburn 12.
Auburn took over, with just 3:12 left. Auburn ran Trey Smith into the line 3 times, picking up nothing. They did force Bama to use their last timeout. Damon Duval punted it away, short again, to the Bama 47, and Shaud Williams returned it to the Auburn 37. 1:44 remained in the game.
The Tide looked rattled, finally. A first down false start was followed by a missed corner route to Clint Johnson. Two short throws to Shaud Williams were contained by the Tigers, and it was now 4th and 7. Brodie Croyle’s last ditch desperation heave was knocked down by Dontarrious Thomas, and the Tigers took over! Two victory-formation kneel downs, and this one was history! Auburn had come into Tuscaloosa, and shocked the 9th ranked Crimson Tide, 17-7!
For Alabama, the loss wiped out what had been a good season. Bama had the best record in the west, still, but was not eligible due to being on probation. Bama would try to savor a trip to Hawaii, but a lackluster 20-16 win over the Rainbow Warriors wasn’t quite with the Tide Nation expected. A 10-3 record was not bad at all, for the Tide, but there was no time to savor it. Less than two weeks after the humbling loss at home to the Tigers, Coach Dennis Franchione popped up at a press conference in College Station, Texas. Coach Fran had ditched the Tide, leaving them high and dry. And more fiascoes were in store, including the Mike Price srtipper episode, and the Mike Shula years.
The Auburn faithful had planned to pack for Shreveport, but now the Tigers had a share of the SEC West Title, and were headed for a New Year’s Day date in Orlando. The Tigers took on a vicious wind, a top-ten rated Penn State team, and all-world running back Larry Johnson. Johnson had all the headlines, but was limited to 63 yards in the game. Game MVP Ronnie Brown returned from his ankle injury, to lead the Tigers to a 13-9 victory, and a 9-4 finish. A shaky start in 2002 had finished at 15th in the nation. Some folks thought that Auburn had a chance to win the National Title, the next season…
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