CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

November 30, 2013

AUBURN NOTEBOOK: Davis' return caps off sensational turnaround for Tigers

By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times

AUBURN — A year ago Saturday, Auburn's football team walked off the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium in a state of dreadful misery.

Two days later, the Gene Chizik era came to a merciless end.

Less than two weeks after that, the Gus Malzahn era began.

When the Tigers kicked off the 2013 season against Washington State, media pundits around the country predicted them to be a "six- to seven-win" team.

Little did they know, Malzahn had other plans in mind.

It started with three straight victories before a tough loss to LSU. Since then, Auburn has reeled off eight consecutive victories — including triumphs over Texas A&M and Georgia, two teams that pounded the Tigers last season.

However, what's happened so far this year pales in comparison to what took place on Saturday night on the Plains.

Two weeks after the Miracle in Jordan-Hare, something even more amazing happened.

Senior Chris Davis, who's had his share of ups and downs throughout his career, made one of the greatest plays in Auburn — and arguably, college — football history.

His 109-yard march down the sideline will forever be remembered by anyone in attendance on that cold November night.

"The first thing I'm looking at is does it have enough distance," Malzahn said. "When I saw that it didn't, my eyes kind of got on Chris. We got some very good blocks and made an unbelievable play there at the end to win."

It was just the fourth time in NCAA history a player has returned a missed field goal for a touchdown. The last had come from LSU's Odell Beckham against UAB back in Week 2 of the season.

Davis' return did more than win a single football game. It also capped a turnaround for the ages.

In a sport where the wacky and unexpected have become the norm, the Tigers have taken it to a whole different level.

Whether it was the score late to beat Mississippi State, the late defensive stand to topple Johnny Football and the Aggies or the Marshall to Louis Hail Mary to ease by Georgia, this year's Tigers have found ways to win the close ones.

And that's exactly what they did against the Tide on Saturday.

% The Gus Bus: Coming into the Iron Bowl, Alabama was yielding just 91 yards per game on the ground. 

That all changed in 60 minutes, as the Tigers ripped off 296 rushing yards in the win. It was the third-highest mark yielded by the Tide in the rivalry and the most an Auburn team has garnered since 1983.

The last squad to eclipse the 200-yard mark against Nick Saban was Georgia Southern back in 2011. 

Auburn was also the first team in Saban's career to rush for more than 240 yards in three quarters of play.

% Third Degree: The much-maligned Auburn defense didn't exactly play its best game against the Tide on Saturday. 

However, they won a very important stat that ultimately kept them in the game.

The Tigers yielded just 4 of 13 third-down attempts to AJ McCarron and the Crimson Tide offense on the night. On the flip side, the offense converted at an 8-for-15 clip — several coming on key scoring drives in the game.

% Cardiac Arrest: Auburn's time-expiring victory over Alabama marked the third time this season the Tigers have scored game-winning touchdowns in the last 30 seconds.

The others came against Mississippi State in Week 3 and Georgia two weeks ago.

Also, five of Auburn's wins have been decided by seven points or less.

% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey@cullmantimes.com