Dec. 1, 2013
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson believed Alabama’s field goal try would come up short (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – As Alabama prepared to try a 57-yard field goal with one second left against Auburn on Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had a suggestion for Rodney Garner, who coaches the field goal block team.
“I said ‘Let’s put somebody at the goal posts, because I don’t think he can reach it,’” Johnson said. Though it was something Auburn had not even practice, Garner agreed it was a good idea and told safety Ryan Smith to drop back.
After calling a timeout to ice Alabama kicker Adam Griffith, head coach Gus Malzahn weighed in. He suggested putting Chris Davis, Auburn’s regular punt returner, deep. They did, and what happened next will be talked about for years to come. Davis returned Griffith’s kick 109 yards for the winning touchdown in Auburn’s 34-28 Iron Bowl victory over Alabama.
Auburn (11-1, 7-1) moves on to play Missouri (11-1, 7-1) in next Saturday’s Southeastern Conference Championship Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Alabama (11-1, 7-1) was knocked out of a chance to win a third consecutive national championship.
“Chris did a perfect job,” Johnson said. “He was in perfect position. He did a great job, of course, running it back. I thought our field goal block team did a great job. We affected two field goals, blocked another one and all of a sudden run a touchdown. The kicking game was just huge.”
Johnson knew what to expect on Iron Bowl Saturday. He served two stints on the Alabama coaching staff.
"I think I’ve probably had more Iron Bowls than any coach on either staff," Johnson said. "I’m proud to have been on the Auburn side for this one. It’s a great rivalry. The thing I’ve always been impressed about is these two teams play each other as physical and tough as anywhere you’ll see, but you don’t see the stuff that goes on other places. Both teams play with class. It’s two class universities, two great football programs. I’m just really proud to be a Tiger right now.
"With the SEC implications it had and the national implications it had, it’s so much bigger than any of the others I have coached in.
After Alabama scored three unanswered touchdowns to take 21-7 lead in the second quarter, Johnson’s defense helped Auburn outscore the Tide 27-7 over the rest of the game. But it seem would go for naught when Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron threw a 99-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 10:28 left in the fourth quarter.
“That was the only play that was really disappointing,” Johnson said. We were in a three-deep zone and should have known what they wanted to do there. That’s 100 yards of offense that, if you wipe off the board, I think it would have been a pretty good day against a great offense.”
Alabama finished with 495 yards of offense.
Auburn rallied to tie the score at 28-28 and set the stage for Davis’ heroics.
“You always talk about those types of situations, but actually we had not worked on that before,” Johnson said. “I thought they were going to take a shot at the end zone. Coach felt like, with the wind, they’d shoot at a field goal.”
Griffith kicked, Davis ran and the celebration began.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: