AUBURN, Ala. — The “it’s just Vanderbilt” thing doesn’t normally work for coaches and players. But, for Auburn especially, the Commodores can’t be discredited.
Vanderbilt leads Auburn in the all-time series 21-20-1, a matchup that dates back to Nov. 6, 1893. Granted, most of the Commodores’ successes against the Tigers came pre-1956. Since then, Auburn is on a 13-2 run. But Vanderbilt owns the last two victories — in 2008 and in 2012.
Are you surprised Auburn trails in the historical series? Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one.
“Really? I didn’t know that,” Auburn cornerback Josh Holsey said. “We have to change that.”
Auburn is a heavy favorite to do so, entering the week as a 25.5-point favorite. There are a couple similarities between the 2008 and 2012 losses, however. The most important being: Gus Malzahn wasn’t a part of either of those coaching staffs.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t aware of those two results. As always, those games won’t dictate the 2016 version, but it gives Malzahn a chance to remind players they can’t underestimate this game as confident as they may be.
“We don’t — the only thing we’ve talked about is Vanderbilt. We got our hands full. We don’t — hypotheticals in this league, if you look ahead in this league, you get burned,” Malzahn said. “I don’t know what everybody else is saying, but in our house, in our little room here with our coaches and players, we’re locked in on Vanderbilt. That’s it, 100 percent.”
Here’s a reminder of what those last two games were like.
Vanderbilt 17, Auburn 13 (2012)
Going in, the game didn’t have much meaning. But, in a sense, it symbolized the end for the Gene Chizik era at Auburn.
Auburn only led for 1:21 of the ballgame. The Tigers took a 10-7 in the third quarter, but they lost that advantage right as time expired in that period. It was an uninspiring performance during an uninspiring season. Zac Stacy set Vanderbilt’s all-time rushing record during his 169-yard, 1-touchdown performance. But he fumbled late, which gave Auburn a last-minute drive to win the game. Clint Moseley overthrew a receiver on fourth-and-long, the drive stalled and Vanderbilt pulled off the win.
Tre Mason’s 85-yard, 1-touchdown showing was the only highlight. It was a good indicator of the future.
The Tigers fell to 1-6, which made bowl eligibility all but impossible. They remained winless in the conference. Gus Malzahn’s move to Auburn was essentially set in stone.
Vanderbilt 14, Auburn 13 (2008)
Don’t forget the context here: This was a top-25 matchup. This wasn’t some Vanderbilt upset, per se. No. 13 Auburn traveled to No. 19 Vanderbilt to play a team that had beaten a ranked South Carolina and Ole Miss on the road.
Auburn jumped out to an early first quarter lead, up 13-0 after one. The only miscue for Auburn, really, in the opening period was a rare extra-point miss from Wes Byrum. No concerns, right? Wrong.
Vanderbilt did all the scoring the rest of the way. Commodores quarterback Mackenzie Adams came of the bench and put on a sensational performance. He led a touchdown drive on his first possession of the game, near the end of the second quarter. He championed another in the third quarter, as well. All in all, Adams finished with 153 yards passing, 2 touchdowns and 54 yards rushing.
Aside from two early Chris Todd touchdowns, a stagnant Auburn offense only got a relevant performance from Ben Tate, who rushed for 108 yards.
The Commodores came out of the game at 5-0 and 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 1950, though the season was mostly downhill from there. It was better than Auburn, however. The Tigers finished 5-7 and missed bowl season.