Auburn has long been known for defense and Coach Pat Dye made it a priority when he first arrived in 1981. It was important for Dye to have the more physical team and his defenses always set the tone. The same can be said about Tommy Tuberville and his goal to play sound defense. Times have changed and speed is the priority on defense under Tuberville but both coaches built their teams around a solid defense.
The majority of Auburn's memorable victories over the last three decades have involved a strong defensive performance. Since 1981, Auburn has fielded eight top 10 defenses with five under Dye and three under Tuberville. Auburn has finished in the top 10 in scoring defense nine times over the last three decades. Four of those years were under Dye and five years under Tuberville. In fact, Auburn has had a top 10 scoring defense for the last five years with three different defensive coordinators.
From 1981-2007 Auburn played 325 football games. Auburn won 228 of those 325 games, allowing 309 yards and 17 points per game since 1981. During the 228 victories, Auburn's defense allowed 287 yards and 13 points per game. With this in mind, I decided to select the top 10 defensive performances from 1981-2007. Obviously there have been many great defensive performances, so creating a criterion to make the final cut narrowed the list.
To be considered for one of the best defensive performances, I placed the following qualifications to make the list:
1. The game had to result in an Auburn victory.
2. The opponent had to be from a major conference.
3. The opponent had to finish the season with a winning record.
4. Auburn held the opponent to under 300-yards in total offense.
5. Auburn held the opponent to under 20 points.
By applying the above guidelines, I was able to shorten the list substantially. The remaining teams on the list were than sorted by yards allowed, providing a final top 10 list.
The Top Ten...
1983: Auburn 13 Georgia 7
The Auburn Tigers held the Georgia Bulldogs to 168 yards and seven points in Athens. Auburn's victory clinched the Southern Conference Championship as Georgia crossed midfield only one time during the game. Georgia was averaging 249 yards on the ground but was held to just 51 against Auburn. Georgia was ranked No. 4 in the nation at the time of the game and finished at No. 4 in the AP Poll with a 10-1-1 record.
2005: Auburn 28 Alabama 18
Auburn held the Crimson Tide to 188 yards on the day, sacking Brodie Croyle 11 times. Alabama averaged 361 yards per game against their other 11 opponents. The game was virtually over with by the end of the first quarter as Auburn cruised to a 28-18 victory over the eighth ranked Alabama squad. Of the 96 opponents Auburn has faced with a win percentage of 70 percent or better from 1981-2007, Alabama's 188 yards was the second best performance by an Auburn defense. The Crimson Tide finished the season with a 10-2 record, ranked No. 8 in the final AP Poll.
2007: Auburn 9 Arkansas 7
Under Houston Nutt, Arkansas had consistently been the best running team in the conference and one of the best in the country. Arkansas entered the game averaging 338.4 yards rushing and 43 points per game. In several previous match ups with Arkansas, Auburn did not fare well and this one had the makings of another track meet.
When all was said and done, the Razorbacks were held to just 67 yards rushing and seven points. Arkansas had a total of 193 yards on 52 plays. It was one of the best run defense performances in school history considering the opponent.
1984: Auburn 29 Tennessee 10
The Volunteer offense was held to 220 yards and only 74 yards rushing on 35 carries. Tennessee averaged 29 points per game against their remaining 11 opponents but scored only 10 against Auburn. The Volunteer offense scored at least 24 points in 10 of its 11 other games. The 220 yards and 10 points allowed was Auburn's best defensive performance in 1984 against a SEC opponent. Tennessee averaged 219 yards rushing and 420 yards in total offense against everyone else on its schedule and its 74 yards rushing and 220 yards in total offense against Auburn was a season low.
1988: Auburn 20 Georgia 10
Most consider the 1988 Auburn defense the best of all Auburn defenses during the modern era of college football. The Bulldog running game was held to just 70 yards, 238 yards in total offense and only 10 points.
All-American, Tim Worley, who averaged 6.55 yards per carry, was held to 63 yards on 15 carries against Auburn. Georgia averaged 272 yards rushing against their remaining opponents. The Bulldogs were ranked 17th in the nation at the time, finishing the season with a 9-3 record and No. 15 in the AP Poll.
1983: Auburn 9 Michigan 7
Auburn's opponent in the 1984 Sugar Bowl was No. 8 Michigan. The Wolverines finished the regular season with the eighth best run offense in the nation and ninth highest scoring offense. The Auburn defense held Michigan to 118 yards rushing, 158 yards below its average and only seven points, 25 points below their scoring average. Michigan finished the season with a 9-3 record and No. 8 in the final AP Poll.
1993: Auburn 22 Alabama 14
The Crimson Tide came to Auburn ranked No. 11 in the nation and the defending nation champion. Alabama was balanced on offense averaging 189 rushing, 225 yards passing and 29 points per game. Though it was Alabama with the higher ranked defense, Auburn's defense held Alabama to 113 rushing, 156 passing and 14 points. 12 of Alabama's 14 offensive possessions resulted in a punt, turnover or loss on downs. Bama finished the season with a 9-3-1 record, and a final ranking of No. 14 in the AP Poll.
2006: Auburn 27 Florida 17
Auburn gave Florida its only loss of the season in a game of two halves. Florida moved the ball at will during the first half scoring 17 points. The Auburn defense shut out the Gators during the second half, holding the nation's 19th ranked offense to 279 yards and 17 points for the game.
Florida had gained 194 yards during its first three possessions but was held to just 85 yards in their last six possessions, which included three forced turnovers by the Auburn defense and a defensive touchdown scored by the Auburn Tigers. Florida was No. 2 in the nation coming into the game and finished No. 1 in the nation, capturing the BCS National Championship.
Tray Blackmon put the hurt on Chris Leak in his college debut.
2004: Auburn 24 Georgia 6
The Bulldogs entered the game ranked No. 5 in the nation but failed to score until its final possession of the game. Georgia averaged 404 yards and 28 points per game on the season but was held to 279 yards and six points against Auburn's defense. Entering the game the Bulldog offense was averaging 432 yards per game. Auburn's defense finished the season as the No. 5 defense in the nation in yards along with the No. 1 scoring defense. Georgia went 10-2 on the season with a final ranking of No. 8 in the AP Poll.
2004: Auburn 34 Tennessee 10
The Volunteers entered the game as the No. 8 team in the nation averaging 504 yards and 38 points per game on offense. This included a touchdown to interception ratio of 10 to 1. Auburn held Tennessee to 293 yards and 10 points, intercepting five passes, while allowing one touchdown pass. Six of Tennessee's 12 offensive possessions resulted in a turnover as Auburn dominated both sides of the ball.
The Volunteers attempted 40 passes, completing only 18 for just 186 yards. The Vols advanced to the SEC Championship Game in 2004 where the Tigers defeated them again. Tennessee finished the season with a 10-3 record, ranked No. 15 in the final AP Poll.