With fall camp beginning Friday, Auburn will turn its focus to 2014 and put last season behind it. But what a season it was. The Tigers, who were picked fifth in the West, went on to win the SEC championship and came 13 seconds from winning a national championship.
It was a sensational run by Gus Malzahn in his first year as head coach, reestablishing Auburn as a premier program in college football, but it didn’t come without a few breaks. It happens to every great team. A certain play or a certain call goes their way and keeps the dream season alive. Call it destiny if you will.
As we take one more look back at 2013, let’s revisit a few of those plays or moments that went Auburn’s way and see how they helped shape the Tigers’ season.
Week 3: What if illegal touching was called on C.J. Uzomah’s touchdown?
Everybody remembers Uzomah’s touchdown grab with 10 seconds left to beat Mississippi State, but what people forget is that the play was actually reviewed to see if Uzomah stepped out of bounds before making the catch. The touchdown stood after the refs ruled he was pushed out by a defender, but what if they had instead called illegal touching and pushed Auburn back five yards? With so little time left, the Tigers might have had one more shot at the end zone, but the more likely outcome would have been a mid-range field goal attempt and a shot at overtime. The right call was made, but if the refs didn’t see the contact on the replay or if Uzomah failed to haul it in, there is a chance Auburn could have still been looking for that elusive SEC win.
Week 8: What if Johnny Manziel doesn’t hurt his shoulder?
Let’s set this up. It’s the beginning of the fourth quarter, Texas A&M is already up 31-24 and Manziel rushes for eight yards down to the Auburn 2-yard line. The only problem is that the reigning Heisman Trophy winner injures his shoulder on the play and is forced to come out. Backup Matt Joeckel comes in, throws an incomplete pass and the Aggies have to settle for a field goal. After an Auburn touchdown, Joeckel comes back on the field and the Aggies go three-and-out. Auburn would score again, and though Manziel eventually returned to the game, we all know how it ended. Had Manziel stayed on the field, that field goal might have been a touchdown and that three-and-out might not have happened.
Week 12: What if Josh Harvey-Clemons is a step slower?
Georgia’s defense looked to be in good position on the 78-yard touchdown pass that is now known as the “Prayer at Jordan Hare.” In fact, both Tray Matthews and Harvey-Clemons could have made the interception on the play, but as it turns out the two former Georgia safeties collided and batted the ball in the air where Ricardo Louis pulled it in for the touchdown. On second glance, Harvey-Clemons arrived late and essentially knocked it out of his teammate’s hands. Had he been a step slower to the ball, Matthews would have likely intercepted it or at least batted it down, forcing a turnover on downs, and we would have been talking about Georgia’s fourth-quarter comeback rather than the miracle play that kept Auburn’s season alive.
Week 14: What if O.J. Howard doesn’t get called for holding?
The easy one from the Iron Bowl would have been what if the last second ticks off and Alabama never gets a chance to attempt the 57-yard field goal? The game goes to overtime, where nobody knows for sure what the outcome would have been. I take you back to a holding call on the Tide's Howard with three minutes left. Had he not been called, Alabama would have had first-and-goal from the Auburn 5-yard line leading 28-21. Instead, the Tide was pushed back 10 yards, and after an incomplete pass, Cade Foster's 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Even if Alabama doesn’t pick up the first down on the play with holding, it still would have been in much better field-goal range to put the game away.