Auburn Football: 8 Great Moments from the Tigers' 2011 Season
It’s hard to put a perspective on the season with just one opinion. The Auburn Tigers had the fans on a roller coaster ride the entire season—some weekends better than others, and some just totally disappointing.
Fortunately, those really disappointing ones were isolated to only three games: LSU, Georgia and of course Alabama.
As far as the Alabama game, I think all of the Auburn Family was hopeful that an upset was in the making. It wasn't without precedent, but after the loss settled in, most were realistic to understand and come away with hope for a new year.
Coming from a National Championship to the new season didn’t make it any easier for the Tigers and head coach Gene Chizik especially after losing so many of his starters—including Cam and Fairley jumping to the NFL.
But, most took those things in stride and with every game came the hope of a good performance and, most of all, another win.
Putting things in perspective on this past season first, it really wasn't all that disappointing when you can isolate some of those moments that lifted an Auburn fan to the level that makes them a fan in the first place.
Take for instance Aubie. He was named the No. 1 mascot in the nation for the sixth time. That has to be a moment to cherish.
These are eight of those kind of moments that I've picked out to highlight. Maybe you have some different ones you'd like to share, so please do.
I think concentrating on the positive can be good for the Auburn soul, looking forward to the bowl game to come and even more to a really good 2012.
The Onside Kick
Opening the season ranked at No. 23, the Auburn Tigers took on Utah State in a game most thought they would win easily—that is until Utah State ran the option all over the Tigers' defense to go ahead 38-35 with about three minutes left on the clock.
As Auburn had just gotten to 35 with one score, they were kicking off to the Aggies at this point in the game.
That's when the special teams put together an unforgettable style of onside kick.
The brilliance was faking one kicker in one direction, then allowing Cody Parkey to top the ball perfectly for a high bounce that fell right into Emory Blake's hands.
This was the highlight of the day, as ESPN replayed it throughout the weekend, and every Auburn fan replayed it mentally and verbally at watering holes around the south.
The First Two-Minute Drill of the Season
In the same Utah State game, following that brilliant onside kick, Auburn was trailing by three.
Barrett Trotter, who had a pretty "blah" game up to that point, executed the hurry-up offense with precision that had most Auburn fans thankful they didn’t leave the stadium before it was over.
Trotter completed three quick passes, and Onterio McCalebb had runs of 10 and 14 yards to push the ball inside the 5-yard line. This was done in the style that the Tigers had mastered in 2010 under Cam Newton.
Michael Dyer did the rest on the ground to take back the game, the momentum and some pride that Auburn had lost during the first three quarters.
That Goal-Line Stand Against Mississippi State
The first game against Utah State had most Auburn fans wondering what happened to that defense they were used to last year. They didn’t seem to know how to tackle and the edges had been left wide open to the options run by Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton.
Now they were going up against, what was supposed to be, a very improved Mississippi State Bulldogs team.
Auburn started out with two touchdowns in the first quarter, but they were quickly answered by the Dawgs to tie it up before the second.
The game went that way, each team answering scores in a seesaw battle that took them all the way into the fourth quarter with the Tigers up 41-34.
But MSU QB Chris Relf wasn't taking it lying down, and with 2:52 left in the game, he moved the Bulldogs from the State 33-yard line all the way down to the Auburn two with six seconds left on the clock.
On 2nd-and-goal, Relf took the option to the left and was stopped just inches from the goal by backup safety Ryan Smith as the clock ran out.
Racing Auburn hearts beat a sigh of relief as the Tigers continued their winning streak, not in a pretty way, but a win is a win.
Special Teams, All Season
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This group saved the Tigers more this season than any other special teams unit in the SEC—perhaps the country.
You have to hand it to special teams coach Jay Boulware. You never hear his name very much, but he put together an outstanding group from the very start of the season.
The onside kick in the Utah State game helped set the stage for a consistently dazzling season for the group.
The two people who stick out the most are place kicker Cody Parkey and punter Steven Clark, putting their foot into it every time. Clark is a Ray Guy Award finalist. Parkey actually led the country in touchbacks and put the ball out of anyone’s reach every time he kicked off.
And who can forget the exciting kickoff returns of Tre Mason against Utah State and Onterio McCalebb against Alabama? That lifted the fanbase to have some hope in the Iron Bowl, even though it would be short-lived.
But all the guys in the supporting cast were essential in getting the Tigers into those great moments the fans will always remember.
Putting a Stop to the Gamecocks
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The Tigers came into this game playing in hostile territory, having already suffered a loss to Clemson on the road in the same state.
Stever Spurrier's Gamecocks were a threat in the air and on the ground with RB Marcus Lattimore. Auburn had stopped him a year ago, but it was becoming evident that the Tigers' defense was not in last year anymore.
This was a defensive game, and the Tigers were trailing USC 13-9 in the fourth quarter.
But again the hurry-up offense wore down the South Carolina defense, and Lutzenkirchen came through in the clutch again with a touchdown reception to put AU ahead for good.
The good news from this game was that the defense actually played well, stopping Lattimore more than once as he only gained 66 yards on 17 carries.
This win was repeated in conversations all season long and kept Auburn undefeated in the SEC at that point in time.
The Ole Miss Game
Sure, everybody beat Ole Miss this year, but if you're an Auburn fan, you have to admit that this game made you feel like the Tigers had something going for them.
This was an offensive game that lifted Clint Moseley out of the doldrums following the debacle of a career start against LSU. He threw his first four career touchdowns in this game, going 12-of-15 for 160 yards through the air.
The running game did even better, running up 254 yards with Michael Dyer getting 177 of those yards in a great game.
By the end of the season, it was evident the Rebels didn't have much going for them—except for coach Houston Nutt who was gone by the end.
Still, those moments that make you feel good are there at the moment and should be treasured for what they were at the time.
Every Tiger Walk
The Tiger Walk has become one of the most important events of Auburn home games, and the fans make a point of taking it on the road as well.
Two hours before kickoff, the Auburn fans are always mustering hope for the boys in blue to pull them through, even against all odds.
Typically, the biggest Tiger Walk is at the Iron Bowl, especially when it's home at Jordan-Hare Stadium
This year was no different; even with the No. 2 Tide coming to town, the fans were there by the thousands giving hope to those who marched through it.
Head coach Gene Chizik always encourages fans to come out for the walk and relishes being a part of it, high-fiving and chest-bumping fans along the route. He said on his first Tiger Walk he was drenched with sweat by the time he got to the stadium.
But he loves it, and coaches, players and fans alike can't deny getting goose bumps when they're a part of it
The Best Moment Is Being in the Auburn Family—All in
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By the end of the season, following the trouncing by Alabama, it's easy for an Auburn fan to fall into the depths of despair, wondering where the weeks went and how the Tigers could fall so far from the grace that had carried them to the BCS Championship Game just a year before.
But in the heart of an Auburn fan, that depression goes the length of the weekend, and then they're already hopeful, looking forward to the bowl game that will come their way and getting those feelings for the Tigers they love to cheer on.
This group is truly All In, regardless of loss or win. Most are already looking forward to the new recruits coming in next year and the inexperienced ones from this year coming back more seasoned and ready to take it all on again.
Next year will be a better season for sure—and this time in Tuscaloosa.