By Greg Ostendorf
When Auburn and Clemson square off in Death Valley on Saturday, it will be the 50th meeting between the schools and the sixth in the last decade. Of the previous five meetings, four have been decided by a touchdown or less and two went to overtime.
But there's one, in particular, that sticks out to Auburn fans.
In 2010, the teams met early in the season at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It was Dabo Swinney's second full season at Clemson, and Gus Malzahn was the offensive coordinator at Auburn. It was also Cam Newton's third game, and though his team fell behind early, he helped spark the rally in the second half that eventually led to overtime. A crucial penalty and a missed field goal in the extra session helped Auburn prevail and set up what would be a special season on the Plains.
Here's a look back at that epic game from those who were there and took part.
From Lee Corso picking Auburn on the set of College Gameday in the morning to the second-half comeback and the missed field goal that sealed the win to rolling Toomer's Corner after the game, it was an incredible environment all day on Auburn's campus.
Linebacker Josh Bynes: "The atmosphere. It was just one of those things where you knew the game was just going to be real intense. It was one of those primetime games. You knew that Clemson – they're a tough team, they come into our house and they want to win. It was going to be a dogfight to the end."
Wide receiver Kodi Burns: "Every game at Jordan-Hare is pretty loud and crazy. It's kind of hard to separate all the games, but obviously any time you have a College Gameday atmosphere, I think that adds to the build-up of the game. But in Jordan-Hare, each and every Saturday it's going to be rocking."
Falling behind early
The game didn't start the way many had hoped at Auburn. Clemson got the ball first and scored a touchdown on its opening possession. Meanwhile, the Clemson defense looked downright nasty in the first half. Auburn finished with 115 total yards, six first downs, and Newton had as many interceptions (one) as he did completions.
It was 17-0 in the closing minutes of the first half, but Newton put together a late drive that led to a Wes Byrum field goal that made it 17-3 and gave Auburn a little momentum going into the half.
Center Ryan Pugh: "The biggest thing I remember is just how good [Clemson] was up front defensively. I don't know if every one of them was drafted in the first round, but I swear it felt like every player they brought in the game defensively was so talented. They played really well.
Bynes: "Throughout the year, we never really started out great. We were one of the better second-half teams in all of college football that year. We just took an emphasis on correcting ourselves, limiting mistakes and figuring out what we needed to do.
Rod Bramblett, Voice of the Auburn Tigers: "I think this only occurred to me after the game was over, maybe even after the season was over, but I thought that was the first time – because Auburn was behind 17-0 and then 17-3 – I thought that was the first time we saw that team give us an indication that even if they got behind, they weren't out. It also showed us how good I thought that staff was that season in making adjustments. I thought that game was the first time we got a glimpse of that."
Down 17-3 at the half, the Auburn coaches decided to loosen the reins on Newton a little, and it was the first time we saw what the Heisman Trophy winner could really do. He picked up chunks of yards when he tucked the ball and ran. He connected on two deep passes to Darvin Adams, and before you knew it, the game was tied at 17 midway through the third quarter.
Burns: "I remember Cam just being calm, collected, poised. I thought he did a good job of really unifying us as an offense. I don't know if that was one of his better games, but he found a way to make plays and help us win the game."
Pugh: "We really didn't know how good Cam could be. That was kind of the ironic part because you don't make your quarterback live, especially when you're not sure what you have at quarterback. We knew he was athletic. We knew he did some things at practice where you're going, 'Wow.' But we had good tailbacks. We had good receivers. At the end of the day, I don't know if we thought he would be our leading rusher. Certainly he didn't really carry the ball until the second half of the Clemson game."
Bramblett: "I thought in the Clemson game, in the second half, that he was turned loose maybe more so than he been in the first two games, but it wasn't necessarily just his play on the field. It's how he carried himself. It's how he never lost his cool. He showed real leadership."
Newton's best play of the night came late in the third quarter with the game tied. He stood in the pocket, pump-faked, and then threw a bomb to Terrell Zachary down the sideline at the same time a Clemson defender wrapped him up. There wasn't a defender within 20 yards of Zachary, who caught the long pass and ran it the rest of the way for the go-ahead touchdown.
Jordan-Hare Stadium was already loud prior to that, but the place erupted when Zachary scored to give Auburn its first lead.
Michael Stuckey, Auburn student: "That long pass to Terrell Zachary was incredible. I remember seeing him kind of break loose and everyone around us was like, 'He's open! He's open! Throw him the ball.' He got it, and he just ran."
Malzahn: "We fell behind. We came back, made some plays. I think we hit a big pass play to T-Zac down the sideline that really helped us right there. We found a way to go into overtime, and then you're in overtime at home – you usually like your chances."
Auburn got the ball first in overtime and failed to get a first down. The Tigers had to settle for a 39-yard field goal from Wes Byrum and hope the defense could do its job.
Clemson quickly moved inside the Auburn 10-yard line and nearly won the game on a third-and-5 play where quarterback Kyle Parker rolled out and threw it to a wide-open receiver in the end zone who dropped a potential game-winning touchdown.
It forced Clemson to attempt field goal. The kicker, freshman Chandler Catanzaro, made the short kick initially. However, a flag was thrown on the Clemson center for an illegal snap. The ball was moved back five yards, and on the second go-around, Catanzaro drilled it wide left. Auburn survived, beat Clemson and went on to win 11 consecutive games en route to a national championship.
Bynes: "It was just like 'Wow.' It just shows the game of football is a game of inches. It was just one of those moments where I'm just glad he missed the kick and the game is over."
Pugh: "I just remember them blowing their whistle and the flag on the play, and instantly we thought maybe we lined up offsides. But then they came out and said there was an illegal snap. It might be one of the most important plays of that season. There are so many of them, but that one I think often gets overlooked because it was the third game of the season."
Bramblett: "You talk about the touchdown pass. It was just flat-out dropped by the receiver. That would've ended the whole thing. And then the call that you don't see called very often – an illegal snap. It occurs, and it forces the guy to kick again. He misses it, and Auburn wins. That was one of those moments that every team has in a championship season where things go your way. They just happen to go your way. Sometimes they go in a sequence like that. If the guy catches the ball, the game's over. If the snap's not illegal, you go to another overtime and who knows what happens after that?"
Stuckey: "If you score a field goal first, you better be nervous when it's Clemson's turn. All they have to do is score a touchdown. It's all a defensive game then. You stop them, and then you just hope and pray that we block the kick because if they make it, it's back to square one and the nerves kick in. Then they kicked it wide. Right then it was like, 'Oh my God, that was a fun game. That was exciting. That was awesome.'"
Greg Ostendorf is a Staff Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: