“Kick Six” will live on in college football history as the signature moment in Auburn’s SEC championship season of 2013. But what that touchdown score in the final seconds of the Tigers win over Alabama symbolizes is no longer clear.
At the time it was assumed by many that that play, and the resulting Auburn victory, represented a changing of the guard within the state of Alabama, if not the entire SEC. Auburn’s first-year coach Gus Malzahn looked to be starting a rivalry with Nick Saban that might last for ages, and after one season on the job, Malzahn appeared to be every bit Saban’s equal.
However, Auburn has found following up on Malzahn’s early success a difficult task. Since the day Chris Davis scooped up a missed field goal and returned it for a touchdown to win the Iron Bowl on the final day of the 2013 regular season, the Tigers have lost 11 games and are a two touchdown underdog to Alabama this Saturday.
What happened? How did Auburn go from SEC champion to SEC also-ran so quickly?
The main issue for the Tigers has been defense. Auburn was just 56th in FootballOutsiders.com’s ranking of defensive efficiency in 2014 and just 65th in that ranking so far this year despite the huge financial investment that was made to hire former Florida head coach Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator during the offseason.
Of course, it isn’t just the defense that’s had its issues. When Malzahn was Auburn’s offensive coordinator in 2010, the Tigers were almost unstoppable and Malzahn was labeled as a genius. In hindsight, it’s become obvious that Malzahn greatly benefited from the fact that he was working with Cam Newton at quarterback, a future no. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. As a head coach, Malzahn just hasn’t been able to find a quarterback who is as dynamic as Newton, and without that kind of impact athlete running the show, Malzahn’s offense frankly isn’t anything special.
Furthermore, in 2013 when Auburn won the SEC, a narrative was starting to grow that the Alabama dynasty might be coming to an end. The Crimson Tide had been hoarding championships under Saban, but Malzahn’s presence was supposed to restore a sense of balance to the league. Simply put, that just hasn’t happened. Since Alabama lost the “Kick Six” game in 2013 it has gone 22-4, won an SEC championship, and appears on the verge of another.
So where does all of this leave Malzahn and Auburn? It’s difficult to say. The Tigers continue to recruit well and if Muschamp sticks around he might eventually be able to mold the Auburn defense into a competent unit. If that happens, then Auburn might have a chance of living up to some of the hype that was attached to the program after the championship season of 2013.
For now though, it seems fair to say that the famous “Kick Six” was probably mislabeled. Many times it has been called a miracle, yet it’s probably more accurately described as a fluke.