On Saturday they faced the football equivalent of that firing squad trailing 24-0 on the homefield of their arch-rival, the Alabama Crimson Tide, which was trying to snuff out Auburn's hopes of having a chance to play for a national championship.
After a first half of humiliation, the Auburn defense allowed the Tide just three points and 67 total yards in the second half while Auburn's potent offense overcame its first half struggles as the Tigers rallied for a 28-27 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"When we went in at halftime we knew we had a chance to come back and win this game," senior linebacker Josh Bynes said. "They hit us with everything they had in the first half. We made adjustments and in the second half we came back and took the fight to them."
The victory was the eighth comeback win for the Tigers this season and fourth in which they had rallied from a double digits deficit.
"That was a game that will certainly go down in history," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "It's hard to come back when you are down 24-0 against anybody. It is just hard to do. It was something we have done before in terms of having to come back from adversity. I couldn't be more proud of our coaching staff that made some great adjustments at halftime, both on offense and defense. The players came out an executed and it was a great win for Auburn football."
The 24-0 comeback is the biggest for the Tigers in not only the Auburn-Alabama game, topping a rally from 17 points down to win in 1970, it is also the largest comeback for any football game in Auburn football history. It was also the largest lead surrendered by a Crimson Tide team in any game.
"I couldn't be more proud of the locker room over there," Chizik said. "It is full of a lot of love, I will tell you that. They deserved this win tonight because they fought for it. I am just real blessed to be a part of it."
Onterio McCalebb was the game's leading rusher.
The Tigers won the opening toss, but not much else early in the game that started poorly and quickly spiraled out of control for Auburn.
Alabama got the opening half kickoff and had no trouble driving 71 yards on seven plays to take a quick 7-0 after a questionable pass interference call gave the Tide a first and goal at the nine.
On the next play Mark Ingram found a big hole in the middle of the Auburn defense and scored at the 11:34 mark.
A blown coverage by Auburn on Alabama's second possession gave the Tide an easy touchdown. Nobody covered Julio Jones, who scored from 68 yards out to make the score 14-0.
The Tigers appeared to have the Tide stopped on Bama's next possession thanks to a Nick Fairley sack on third down, but referee Tom Ritter invented a call that helped the Tide, calling Fairley for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the defensive tackle.
With the 15-yard penalty the Tide had a fourth and four at the Auburn 32 and the home team took advantage of the break. McElroy hit Marquis Maze for a nine-yard gain. Three plays later the score was 21-0 as Darius Hanks beat Neiko Thorpe in the end zone on a 12-yard pass play.
Auburn ended the first quarter with negative eight yards on offense while the Tide racked 183 yards in the period.
The second quarter was a little better for the Tigers, but nothing to get excited about for the visitors. By halftime the Tigers had cut the lead to 24-7 as the offense showed some signs of life. However, the defense continued to struggle to stop the Tide that had 39 offensive plays for 379 yards at the break to 87 yards on 27 plays for the Tigers.
About the only productivity for the Auburn defense was two forced fumbles. Antoine Carter knocked the football away from Ingram to force a touchback and Fairley's second sack knocked the ball loose at the Auburn 12 with 54 seconds left in the half and then he recovered the football.
"The coaches teach us never to give up on a play so when I got a chance I punched the ball out of his hands," Carter said.
After the Tigers had fallen behind 24-0 the Tigers got on the scoreboard with 5:08 on the second quarter clock by moving 80 yards on eight plays in 2:53 The touchdown pass came on a 36-yarder from Cameron Newton to Emory Blake.
The second half was a complete turnaround. On the second play of the third quarter Newton hooked up with senior Terrell Zachery on a huge momentum-swinging play. The 70-yard touchdown play cut the Tide's lead to 24-14 less than a minute into the third quarter and made a statement that Auburn was going the distance.
The Tigers cut the gap to 24-21 with 4:25 left in the third quarter with an eight-play drive that covered 75 yards. Newton powered over the goal line on first down and goal from the one after hitting Mario Fannin in the flat for a six-yard gainer on a swing pass play that Onterio McCalebb had success with, too.
Auburn's offensive momentum was obvious as the Tigers never had to go to third down on their two third-quarter scoring drives.
With Auburn's defense gang-tackling and racing to the ball, Alabama had a three-and-out, but Quindarius Carr gave the Tide an early Christmas present by fumbling the punt. That put the Alabama offense in business at the Auburn 27.
After a 15-yard pass to Jones on first down, the Tigers forced a field goal on fourth and 13 following a sack by linebacker Eltoro Freeman. That put the Tide up 27-21 with 1:05 left in the third quarter.
Auburn responded with the game-winning touchdown drive. The Tigers moved 67 yards on 11 plays.
The Tigers converted a fourth-and-three at the Alabama 47 to keep the drive alive. Chizik said his thinking was the Tigers came to Tuscaloosa with the intention of winning and he thought that the aggressive play was the best way to make it happen.
Newton, who was lined up like he might punt the ball like he did earlier in the season from the same formation, found single coverage on Darvin Adams and threw a nine-yard completion on a sideline route to the junior receiver to put the Tigers in business at the Alabama 38.
Newton then ran for 12 yards and Michael Dyer added 13 on the next play to give the Tigers a first and 10 at the Tide 13.
After a three-yard run by Dyer and a swing pass to Blake picked up three more yards, the Tigers faced a third down and four. Newton, throwing under pressure, found tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen in the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown pass that put the Tigers up 28-27 after Wes Byrum added the PAT.
"It was a play we have had in all year," Lutzenkirchen said. "It was just one of Coach (Gus) Malzahn's many plays. I guess we saved it because we hadn't run it all year. We faked right, Cam rolled out right, I went left and we caught them off guard," the sophomore said.
"It was an amazing play by Cam," Lutzenkirchen said. "He was getting tackled again and he found a way to get me the ball."
"It was a real good feeling sending the seniors out with a victory over Alabama," Lutzenkirchen added.
Alabama got the ball back with 11:55 to play and kept it for 11 plays, but couldn't move into scoring range.
On third and 12, McElroy was sacked for a four-yard loss by T'Sharvan Bell, who knocked the Tide quarterback out of the game. Auburn got the ball back with 5:18 left after Cody Mandell shanked a punt 13 yards. It sailed out of bounds giving Auburn the ball at its 27 with 5:18 to play.
T'Sharvan Bell sacks McElroy.
Auburn kept the football for seven running plays and managed to chew up Alabama's timeouts plus all but 51 seconds of the clock when the Tide got the ball at its 19-yard line after a 42-yard punt by Ryan Shoemaker.
Backup A.J. McCarron came in to play quarterback for the Tide and threw four incomplete passes. His third was dropped by Auburn's Bell. However, Auburn got the ball back left with 30 seconds. Newton took a knee and the Tigers were able to celebrate their 12th win of the season and eighth win over Alabama in the last 11 seasons.
The Tigers managed to win despite a subpar offensive game. They were out-gained 446-324 and managed just 108 net rushing yards.
Newton completed 13-20 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns, but was sacked four times and netted just 39 yards on 22 carries.
McCalebb led the Tigers in rushing with eight carries for 50 yards and Dyer added 27 yards on nine carries.
Zachery had two catches for 79 yards and Emory Blake added three catches for 39 yards.
For Alabama 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram gained 36 yards on 10 caries and Trent Richardson had just 24 yards on 10 carries.
Jones was Alabama's big-play man on offense with 10 catches for 199 yards and one score. Ingram added four catches for 91 yards as McElroy hit 27-37 passes for 377 yards.
Neiko Thorpe led all tacklers with 12 stops, including six solo tackles. Bynes added three solos and seven assists for the Tigers and linebacker Freeman, who started the game ahead of Daren Bates, added six solo tackles and three assists in a starting role.
Senior safety Zac Etheridge said he has enjoyed a lot of victories during his time at Auburn. Asked how the 28-27 victory in his final Iron Bowl game rated, "I would have to say this one is my favorite."
After celebrating their victory over the Tide, the Tigers will turn their attention to the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers will take on South Carolina next Saturday in Atlanta looking to win their first SEC title since 2004. Auburn won the regular season matchup vs. the Gamecocks 35-27.