AUBURN, Ala. — From fourth-quarter defensive stands to overtime missed field goals to clock-killing, length-of-the field drives, the Auburn football team has made a habit of living dangerously at the end of games.
Fans call it nerve-wracking.
The Tigers consider it character-building.
“You can’t go to Walmart and buy team chemistry,” Auburn quarterback Cam Newton said. “Just being in the tough games and being in tight situations, that can build a team or it can separate a team.
“Right now, some guys have really been stepping up as leaders, and that’s going to be something we’re going to need.”
No. 7 Auburn (6-0, 3-0 SEC) is unbeaten at the season’s halfway point, but four of its wins have been by single digits.
Three have been decided by three points or less, only the second time in the past eight years the Tigers have had that many close games go in their favor.
“It’s actually fun,” running back Mike Dyer said. “To fight with your team to the end, and the celebration at the end, makes the game worth it.”
Not for everyone.
“The coaches are probably tired of it,” Dyer said. “But, at the end, we’re all satisfied with the way it turns out.”
Auburn’s late-game theatrics have come in a multitude of ways. In their four close wins, the Tigers
Shut out Mississippi State in the second half of a 17-14 win in Starkville, holding strong with a fourth-quarter defensive stand deep in their territory.
Rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit against Clemson to force overtime, winning 27-24 when kicker Chandler Catanzaro hooked a 32-yarder that would have tied the game.
Stormed back from a 13-point first-half deficit against South Carolina, forcing four fourth-quarter turnovers, including an interception in the end zone by Demond Washington on the Gamecocks’ final drive to preserve a 35-27 win.
Survived a furious second-half rally at Kentucky, using a 19-play 86-yard drive to take more than 7 minutes off the game clock and set up Wes Byrum’s 24-yard field goal as time expired to win 37-34.
“I feel like, to a large degree, it gives our team confidence that there are different ways to come back and win,” coach Gene Chizik said.
“Every one of these last-minute deals have been kind of different in its own way.
“Our guys understand that, certainly in this league, they’re all going to be close, and you’ve got to find ways to win at the end. I think that’s helped us certainly more than it’s hurt us.”
Still, the Tigers are trying to eliminate the inconsistent play that has led to all of their close outcomes. In all four of the games decided by single digits, Auburn has been erratic, particularly on offense, which has been feast or famine.
“We’ve had several things go bad these last few games, but we stuck together and weathered the storm,” wide receiver Kodi Burns said. “Now, the key is to try to find a way to stay out of those situations.”
Said Newton: “We’ve been very lucky, in my opinion.”
Nevertheless, Auburn’s confidence is sky-high.
“That’s something you can’t put a price on,” left tackle Lee Ziemba said. “It becomes second nature. You’re expecting the game to go down to the wire, and, when it does get there, you know how to win it. It’s not a shock.”
With games still remaining on the schedule against No. 12 Arkansas, No. 9 LSU and No. 8 Alabama, the heart-pounding finishes might not be over.
“This next stretch of games coming on,” Ziemba said, “there’s going to be some close ones.”