Forget the record. Vanderbilt is still a 'scary' place to play for Auburn.
The Tigers and their first-year head coach have their own shaky histories in Nashville, so they won't overlook a team on a 7-game slide.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
It’s Halloween, and Hugh Freeze is not afraid to admit that something is scary to him.
And it doesn’t have anything to do with October 31. It has everything to do with November 4 — this Saturday — when Auburn faces Vanderbilt on the road.
“This is a scary game to me,” Freeze said Monday. “I've always thought playing there is difficult, for whatever reason.”
Freeze coached against Vanderbilt in each of his five seasons as the head man and two as an assistant at Ole Miss. Freeze went 3-2 against the Commodores as the head coach and split his two games as an assistant.
He had one blowout win over Vanderbilt in 2014, which was played at the Tennessee Titans’ home stadium. The rest were much different: a 1-point home loss in 2012, a 4-point road win in 2013, an 11-point home win in 2015 and a 21-point road loss in 2016. The Rebels also lost by two touchdowns inside Vanderbilt Stadium in 2007.
“If you go up there and you don’t get some momentum going your way… I’ve been there with a really good Ole Miss team, now, and it was tough,” Freeze said. “They’ve got our full attention.”
Freeze probably won’t be alone this week. The fan base at his new school doesn’t have the fondest memories of playing at Vanderbilt. Auburn hasn’t won there since 2003, losing games there in both 2008 and 2012. The Tigers only scored 13 points in both of those games.
In the modern era, even Auburn’s road wins at Vanderbilt can be too close for comfort. Five of the Tigers’ last six road trips to Vanderbilt have been decided by a single possession. In fact, the all-time series is currently tied at 21-21-1, with the Commodores holding a 12-7 advantage in games played at their home stadium.
And Auburn had to win its last game against Vanderbilt — a bizarre 23-16 game inside Jordan-Hare Stadium back in 2016 — just to even up the series. Before Shug Jordan brought championship glory to the Plains, Vanderbilt dominated Auburn.
Times have changed, and Vanderbilt has spent decades as the small private school in the SEC, surrounded by massive state-school powers. Finishing above any other program in the conference feels like an accomplishment, because no one else has to play by the same, strict academic standards in what is an 85-man scholarship sport.
In the 247Sports Team Talent Composite, 13 of the SEC’s 14 schools are in the top 32 nationally. Vanderbilt is No. 58, which is near the bottom of all Power 5 programs.
But Vanderbilt can be a thorn in other programs’ sides, and there’s no denying that weird things just happen inside the Commodores’ home stadium.
Some fans might remember the time in 2001 — a 24-21 Auburn win — when Vanderbilt was gifted a touchdown on a pass that the receiver never even came close to catching. It might just be the worst call, ever, in an Auburn football game.
The 2023 version of Vanderbilt Stadium — now known as FirstBank Stadium, for corporate sponsorship purposes — might be even more susceptible to that bizarre energy.
Due to ongoing stadium renovations, the capacity is just 28,500 this season. It will be the smallest crowd Auburn has played in front of since the 1980 opener against TCU (22,812). And it will also be the smallest capacity stadium Auburn has played inside since a 1958 game against Georgia in nearby Columbus (28,000).
At least Auburn expects a strong crowd of its own fans.
“Usually the away team travels well there, and it's like a home game,” said Jack linebacker Elijah McAllister, who transferred from Vanderbilt to Auburn. “It'll be just like that this week, hopefully, because I know the fans here love to travel and love us.”
But Auburn isn’t in a position to overlook anybody, including a Vanderbilt team that has lost seven straight games and has lost all five of its SEC matchups by at least 17 points.
There’s too much at stake.
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