AUBURN – On its rise to being ranked No. 7 in the nation, Auburn’s football team has had its shining moments in the first quarter, the second and the third. And it has had its travails.
Auburn DC Ted Roof hugs Demond Washington after game-saving interception against South Carolina
But in the fourth quarter, when most close games are won and lost, the Tigers have taken their game to a different level on both sides of the ball. And that, most of all, is why they are 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference going into Saturday’s showdown with No. 12 Arkansas at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Sept. 9, Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, Miss: A fourth-down pass interference call gives Mississippi State, trailing 17-14, a first down at the Auburn 41 inside the final minute. Chris Relf throws four consecutive incomplete passes and Auburn kills the clock and wins the game.
Sept. 18, Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn: Auburn is outscored 7-0 in the fourth quarter by Clemson, the only time it has not “won” the fourth quarter all season. The game goes to overtime. Wes Byrum gives Auburn the lead with a field goal. Safety Zac Etheridge fights off a block, gets off the ground and makes a touchdown-saving tackle on running back Andre Ellington at the 8. Clemson has second-and-5 but can go no further. A missed field goal gives Auburn the 27-24 victory.
Sept. 25, Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn: South Carolina leads 27-21 after three quarters, but Cam Newton throws a 7-yard touchdown pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen and a 12-yard pass to Emory Blake. South Carolina drives to the Auburn 25, but Josh Bynes intercepts a Connor Shaw pass. South Carolina drives again to the Auburn 18 in the final minute. Sensational receiver Alshon Jeffery has a Shaw pass in his hands in the end zone, but a withering hit from Etheridge knocks it loose and Demond Washington makes a diving interception. Auburn runs out the clock and wins 35-27.
Oct. 9, Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky.: With Auburn clinging to a 34-31 lead, Kentucky has a first down at the Tiger 15. Three plays later, the ball is at the 18 and the Wildcats settle for a game-tying field goal. Newton leads a drive for the ages 86 yards in 19 plays, consuming 7:22, and Byrum’s field goal as time expires gives Auburn a 37-34 victory. Auburn kept the ball for 12:01 of the quarter, giving Kentucky just one possession.
Defensive tackle Mike Blanc says the Tigers, with almost two dozen seniors, don’t flinch when time grows short and the pressure grows heavy.
"When the fourth quarter's coming around, we want to make sure we're doing the right things and don't mess up on the coverage, or on the offensive line, and that we don't mess up on the blocking scheme,” Blanc said. "The defensive line, just know where you're supposed to fit up. It's just the little things at the end of the game where people win or they lose.”
Newton says it’s about heart and leadership.
“There are some warriors on this team,” Newton said. “They are relentless. They are determined to win. I’m blessed just to be part of them.”
Auburn coach Gene Chizik readily admits he’d like for his team to be a little less dramatic, but he’s not complaining, at least not much.
“We’ve found different ways to win,” Chizik said. “The next step is to not have to do that, but I’m really proud of these guys and what they’ve done.”
Auburn has outscored its opponents 41-13 in the fourth quarter through six games. It has given up just one touchdown.
Here is a look at how the fourth-quarter drives have gone in each game:
AUBURN 52, ARKANSAS STATE 26
Arkansas State: 14 yards, 5 plays, punt; 54 yards, 13 plays, field goal.
Auburn: 71 yards, 9 plays, touchdown; plays, 28 yards, 5 plays, end of game.
AUBURN 17, MISS. STATE 13
Mississippi State: 0 yards, 3 plays, punt; 25 yards, 5 plays, punt; 39 yards, 10 plays, downs.
Auburn: 8 yards, 4 plays, punt; 57 yards, 8 plays, missed field goal.
AUBURN 27, CLEMSON 24 (OT)
Clemson: 77 yards, 9 plays, touchdown (Drive started in 3rd quarter); minus-5 yards, 3 plays, punt; 39 yards, 7 plays, punt.
Auburn: Minus-13 yards, 4 plays, punt; 39 yards, 7 plays, punt.
AUBURN 35, SOUTH CAROLINA 27
South Carolina: 6 yards, 1 play, lost fumble; 22 yards, 5 plays, lost fumble; 49 yards, 6 plays, interception; 39 yards, 4 plays, interception.
Auburn: 26 yards, 4 plays, touchdown; 53 yards, 9 plays, touchdown; 9 yards, 3 plays, punt.
AUBURN 52, LOUISIANA-MONROE 3
ULM: 14 yards, 8 plays, lost fumble; 43 yards, 11 plays, downs.
Auburn: 56 yards, 9 plays, touchdown; 41 yards, 5 plays, touchdown; 20 yards, 5 plays, end of game.
AUBURN 37, KENTUCKY 34
Kentucky: 53 yards, 14 plays, field goal.
The result of those escapes, Chizik says, has been Auburn players’ belief that they can do what it takes when it matters most.
“I feel like, to a large degree, it gives our team confidence that there are different ways to come back and win,” Chizik said. “Our guys understand that, certainly in this league, they’re all going to be close, and you’ve got to find ways to win at the end.”
Through six games, Auburn has done it every time.