71st Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 3, 2005
#3 Auburn 16 (Final: 13-0, #2)
The Auburn Tigers wanted to make a statement.
What they made was sort of more of a stammer.
Starting out like it was going to show the college football world what an injustice its omission from the national championship game had perpetuated, the Tigers could never put Virginia Tech away - and, in fact, could well have lost the game along with their argument in the end.
Early though, the Tigers were making a strong case. On the night's first series, quarterback Jason Campbell drove Auburn to the Hokies' 8. But the Tigers couldn't put the ball in the end zone. John Vaughn kicked a 21-yard field goal.
An interception of Tech quarterback Bryan Randall by Junior Rosengreen eventually put the Tigers at the 1 - where the Hokies forced a second Vaughn field goal.
Auburn was in front and in charge - but not convincingly, even though Virginia Tech was unable to seriously dent the formidable Tiger defense.
By the end of the quarter, Tech had two first downs and just 30 yards of offense, nine of which came on scrambles by Randall.
The first real signs of offensive life for Virginia Tech came in the second period when Randall drove the Hokies to the Tiger 2 and the opportunity to seize the lead against an Auburn team that was settling for field goals instead of touchdowns.
After two futile plays, on third down Randall ran a quarterback draw and, for an instant, had a clear path to the end zone.
But free safety Will Henning shot up the middle and stopped Randall a yard short. Then, on fourth down, passing up a field goal and with everyone expecting another power run, Randall rolled out and flung a pass between two defenders to sophomore fullback Jesse Allen - who had it for an instant, then dropped it. The ball may have been brushed by a defender's finger, but no one was certain.
"I wasn't sure if it was tipped or not," Allen said. "Randall usually puts the ball in there where you can get it. It was my job to catch it."
Coach Frank Beamer explained his rationale in going for seven points instead of the almost sure three at that point thusly: "We had a chance to go up 7-6, and I felt we were lucky to be down (just) 6-0 at that time," Beamer said. "I felt even if we don't make it, we'd have them backed up."
Instead, not only did Virginia Tech fail to take the lead but Auburn took over at the 1, and then proceeded to march 92 yards to the Hokies' 7, where John Vaughn kicked another field goal, this one of 24 yards.
The 9-0 halftime lead gave Auburn breathing room, and, then, on the opening drive of the third quarter, the Tigers extended the lead with their lone touchdown of the night. Campbell hit Anthony Mix with a 53-yard completion to the Tech 13, then threw five yards to Devin Aronashodu for the TD that put Auburn up 16-0.
An indication of Auburn's control of the game at this point would be that at the end of three quarters, the Hokie running backs had a total net of 26 yards.
Virginia Tech, though, was about to throw a major scare into the Tigers. A recovered fumble led to Tech's first points with a 29-yard scoring pass from Randall to Josh Morgan.
Time was running out, but Tech made the ending a heart-stopper when Randall-to-Morgan struck again, this time on a stunning 80-yard pass - the longest against the Tigers all season - with 2:01 remaining.
Suddenly Tech, dominated almost all evening long, had a chance to steal the Sugar Bowl - and the thunder from Auburn's argument that it may well have been the nation's best college football team. Cooper Wallace's recovery of Tech's on-sides kick, though, ended matters for all practical purposes.
In a way, Tech deserved a better fate. The Hokies, whose running backs had only 34 yards but lived on a controlled passing offense, outgained the Tigers 375-299, and the Tech defense turned in a sterling performance, holding Auburn in check for all but five plays.
Those five plays, though, were the difference. The Tigers gained 179 yards on their five plays of 20 yards or longer. Auburn had 120 on its other 54 plays. "We held them to field goals, but the big plays hurt us," Hokies cornerback Eric Green said.
"We wanted to make the quarterback (Campbell, who was the game's MVP) beat us, and he made a couple of huge plays tonight," defensive end Nolan Burchette said. "I think we did very well against their two tailbacks. Up front we did very well containing them - better than any other team did this year."
Williams and Brown combined for 129 yards, 60 less than their season average. Still, Auburn became just the 10th school in NCAA history to finish a seaons 13-0 or better.
It didn't do the Tigers any good, however. They still were left in the cold as far as national recognition went.
Coach Tommy Tuberville got something out of the memorable season, however. He cracked after the Sugar Bowl that maybe if the more recognized national media polls didn't pick Auburn No. 1, perhaps someone else would, like maybe Golf Digest.
The tongue-in-cheek comment brought a quick response. A representative of the magazine contacted the Tiger coach and informed him that he would be receiving a lifetime subscription.
Recap excerpted from the book "Sugar Bowl Classic: A History" by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.