When it comes to pure entertainment value for Auburn fans or for somebody in another part of the country without a real rooting interest checking out an exciting college football game on TV, it is safe to say there have been few Iron Bowls that can match what we witnessed last Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
With 10 lead changes and big plays from the start to finish, the 2019 contest kept fans on the edge of their seats as the Tigers willed their way to a 48-45 victory.
Of all of the Auburn victories over the Tide that I have personally seen this one easily makes my top five along with 1972 Punt Bama Punt game, the 1989 first-ever Iron Bowl game at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the comeback thriller in Tuscaloosa in 2010 and the Kick Six game in Auburn three seasons later.
Last Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium the Tigers didn’t necessarily play their best game of the season, but made enough big plays on offense, defense and special teams to keep alive their goal of winning 10 games and earning a good bowl trip.
What really stands out about this year’s Iron Bowl is how much mental toughness the Tigers showed. Junior linebacker K.J. Britt was right on target when he compared it to a 15-round heavyweight championship fight. The Tigers took some big blows, but never backed down and in the end that mental toughness helped win a game that will keep Auburn fans smiling for weeks to come.
We will find out Sunday where the Tigers will play their final game this season. My guess is we will see Gus Malzahn’s 9-3 team playing a Big 10 team in one of the Florida bowl games.
For Auburn the only sad news coming out of final weekend of the regular season was that its first Heisman Trophy winner, Pat Sullivan, lost his fight to cancer. There has never been a more loved and respected football player at Auburn than the quarterback from Birmingham, who was a star for the Tigers from 1969-71 for Coach Shug Jordan’s teams. He will be missed.
At Auburn Arena and other venues, Bruce Pearl’s Tigers are off to a 7-0 start and have steadily moved up in the Top 25 polls. The coach gave his players a well deserved break before they return to action on Thursday night as a good Furman team visits Auburn Arena.
After helping Auburn win the Legends Classic in Brooklyn with victories over New Mexico and Richmond last week, it is obvious that Samir Doughty is stepping up and playing about as well as any guard in the SEC. He was productive last year while playing with an ankle problem. He is healthy now and with the Tigers missing last year’s top scorers, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, Doughty is in the right place at the right time for Pearl and the Tigers.
Another promising development is that senior Austin Wiley is off to a strong start, something that will likely continue if he can avoid the injuries that have hindered his development in recent years. The 6-11, 260-pound center was the MVP of the tournament in Brooklyn with an aggressive style of play that was fun to watch.
Isaac Okoro, a true freshman, is one of the best newcomers in the SEC this season. At six-foot-six, 235-pounds, he is a force both defensively and offensively and another reason the 2019-20 Tigers are fun to watch and why they have the potential for continued improvement throughout the season.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter