StatTiger: A Look at AU Football 20 Years Ago

StatTiger writes the very interesting 1986 Auburn football team, which put up some impressive numbers with some impressive players.

Two decades ago as the Auburn Tigers prepared for their season opener, there were many questions entering the 1986 season. After all, Bo Jackson had wrapped up his senior year at Auburn by winning the Heisman Trophy in 1985 and six additional starters were drafted into the NFL.

Gerald Robinson (DE) and Gerald Williams (DE) went in the first two rounds. Steve Wallace (OT), Jeff Parks (TE), Lewis Colbert (P) and Harold Hallman (LB) went in the following eight rounds. Auburn had also decided to open up the offense in 1986 with first-year starter, Jeff Burger at quarterback.

Coach Pat Dye elected to make some changes on his coaching staff following the 1985 season. After posting a 20-4-0 record from 1982-1983, Auburn slipped to 17-8-0 over the next two years with Florida and Tennessee posting a higher win percentage during that two-year period.

Jack Crowe was relieved as offensive coordinator with an emphasis on balancing the offense and Wayne Hall was promoted to defensive coordinator to start the 1986 campaign. With changes made at both coordinator positions, Auburn would benefit from a padded schedule early on to work out the kinks and to break in new faces in the staring lineup.

The Season

The 1986 Auburn Tigers were able to open the season with two "tune-up" games against Tennessee--Chattanooga (42-14) and East Carolina (45-0). The offense found the balance the Tigers were searching for, compiling 415 yards rushing and 482 yards passing to go along with five rushing touchdowns and five touchdowns through the air.

The first test of the year came in week No. 3 against the Tennessee Volunteers. The Tigers were hammered by the Volunteers the year before up in Knoxville and Auburn was looking for some major payback. Tennessee was unable to stop the Auburn running game and Dye elected to keep it on the ground for the majority of the game. Auburn rushed for 358 yards, crushing the Volunteers, 34-8. Brent Fullwood led all Tigers with 207 yards on the ground, giving him 438 yards rushing against Tennessee in three appearances.

The huge victory over Tennessee would be the third victory in a string of seven Auburn victories to start the season. Auburn began the season at No. 14 in the AP poll and would climb as high as No. 5 after defeating Mississippi State, 35-6. After seven games, Auburn had scored 31 offensive touchdowns, while allowing just three.

Tailback Brent Fullwood was a key player for the Tiger offense that season.

Auburn's average margin of victory was 39-8 and it appeared that this could be a very special season for the Tigers. Fullwood was making a name for himself with 866 yards rushing averaging nearly 10 yards per carry and Burger had compiled a 146.3 quarterback rating after seven games.

When Auburn traveled to Gainesville, the Tigers had an opportunity to secure their first road victory against Florida since 1972. After winning six consecutive games against the Gators from 1967 through 1972, Florida had compiled a 9-4-0 record against Auburn from 1973-1985. If there ever was a season Auburn would win in Gainesville, 1986 appeared to be it.

Florida limped into the game with a 3-4-0 record after scoring only 15 points against Rutgers the week before. Hall's defense came to play early on, forcing seven Gator turnovers in the first half alone. Auburn only scored two touchdowns off the Gator's miscues, but had a comfortable 17-0 lead entering the final 15 minutes of the game. The final period might have been the most heart-breaking in school history as Kerwin Bell (QB) came off the bench to lead the Gators to 18 unanswered points, including two touchdowns by Bell and the game winning two-point conversion.

Auburn returned home the following week to dispose of the Cincinnati Bearcats, 52-7, but disaster struck again the next week against the Georgia Bulldogs. Wayne Johnson (QB) had a career game for the Bulldogs, leading his team to a 20-16 victory. It should be noted that Fullwood and Auburn were robbed of a touchdown after an early whistle negated a Fullwood score.

After climbing the polls to No. 5 three weeks earlier, Auburn had now dropped back to No. 14 entering the Iron Bowl to take on the 7th-ranked Crimson Tide. Once again, it appeared the Tigers were headed for another heart-breaking loss against Alabama. The Crimson Tide built a 17-7 lead entering the final period and would finish the game with 340 yards rushing against the Auburn defense. For the first time all season, Auburn mounted its own thrilling comeback with Fullwood and receiver Lawyer Tillman scoring touchdowns in the fourth period. Tillman's touchdown on a reverse will forever be remembered as one of the biggest plays in Iron Bowl history.

Auburn's 9-2 regular season record was rewarded with a January 1st Citrus Bowl appearance against the Trojans of Southern Cal. Auburn's defense dominated the game and Fullwood rushed for over 150 yards in his final game as a Tiger. Auburn's 16-7 victory over Southern Cal pushed the Tigers back to No. 6 in the AP poll, which would be the catalyst for three consecutive SEC titles.

Depending on one's perspective, the 1986 season was a success based on Auburn's overall record (10-2-0) and final ranking in the AP poll. Of course, had Auburn split the Florida and Georgia games, the Tigers would have tied with LSU for the conference title. Had Auburn won both games, a shot at a national title was within its grasp.

Inside the numbers

Auburn's 1,893 yards passing during the 1986 season was the most since 1971, yet the Tigers managed to maintain a strong running game, averaging 245 yards rushing per game.

Auburn's defense allowed only 288.1 yards per game, which was the lowest amount of yards allowed since the 1974 season. No longer playing in the shadow of Jackson, Fullwood made All-American as well as All Southeastern Conference honors. Based on rushing yards per game, Brent Fullwood was the fourth leading rusher in the country despite only having 167 carries in 11 games. He was the only running back in the country to average over eight yards per carry in 1986. Without much preseason hype, Brent Fullwood finished at No. 6 in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Tillman averaged over 20 yards per reception and his 35 receptions were the most of any Auburn receiver since 1971. The 1986 team finished at No. 10 in the country in total offense and No. 4 in scoring offense.

Auburn was No. 2 in the country in scoring defense and finished in the top 15 in total defense. Brian Shulman was the fifth-rated punter in the country in 1986 averaging 44.1 yards per punt. Six players from the 1986 roster made All-SEC including Fullwood (RB), Ben Tamburello (OC), Aundray Bruce (LB), Kurt Crain (LB), Tracy Rocker (DT) and Stacey Searels (OT). Tamburello also joined Brent Fullwood with All-American honors.

Stacy Searels, a star for the Tigers, is a college coach at LSU.

How talented was the 1986 team? Twenty-six players from the 1986 roster would later be drafted into the NFL over the next four years. The 1987-1989 teams will always be remembered as SEC Champions, but it was the 1986 team which started the best four-year run in school history. From 1986-1989, Auburn compiled a 39-7-2 record, which was the third highest win percentage in the country during that time period. Auburn's average score during that four-year run was 28-10. In fact, 31 of Auburn's 48 opponents were held to 10 points or less. Auburn posted a 21-4-1 conference record with an average score of 23-10. Except for LSU (1-1), Auburn held a winning record over every SEC opponent the Tigers faced from 1986-1989, including a clean sweep over Alabama.

Dye's decision to make changes on his coaching staff would end up being the foundation for a great Auburn run during the late 80s. The Tigers were just five points away from being undefeated, but the close defeats would eventually become motivation for future teams during the next three seasons.

The 2006 season will mark the 20th anniversary of the 1986 squad and the 2006 Tigers find themselves in the midst of another strong run. Auburn is currently 22-3 in its last 25 outings and 2006 should be another strong season. Much like Dye, Tuberville has made quality upgrades within his coaching staff, which has resulted in Auburn being very successful on the field.

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