As young kid playing football, Ryan Davis said, you dream of putting on historic performances in games of Saturday’s magnitude — Iron Bowl, No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 6 Auburn, SEC West title on the line.
Once you make your way into college football, you also dream of etching your name in the record books, somehow, some way.
Davis did both Saturday. His 11-catch, 139-yard performance played a crucial role in the 26-14 upset of the No. 1 Crimson Tide that gave the No. 6-ranked Tigers their first SEC West title since 2013.
Both those totals set new career-highs for the junior wide receiver. The former marked the most by any Auburn player in an any of the 82 Iron Bowls that have been played over the course of this series.
Those 11 catches also gave Davis 69 for the season, shattering the previous record of 60 set by Darvin Adams in 2009.
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“It’s a dream come true,” Davis said. “(Wide receivers coach Kodi Burns) always tells us, ‘Wait for your opportunity, and when it comes, make the plays.’ I’ve just been doing that.”
Davis did that early and often against an elite Crimson Tide pass defense. He came into the game with 58 catches on the season and had the record all to himself by the end of the first quarter.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham got the ball into his hands on screen passes, on crossing routes over the middle and even on a misdirection play early in the fourth quarter that picked up 25 yards and set up the Tigers’ final touchdown.
Alabama entered Saturday’s game ranked third national allowing 156.7 passing yards per game. Davis almost reached that number all by himself on a day where Stidham completed 21 of 28 passes for 237 yards.
“He worked so hard this offseason. Hats off to that guy,” said Auburn corner Carlton Davis, who came to Auburn in the same class as Ryan Davis and knows a little about what the Tide defense was going through Saturday. “He’s one of the best receivers that I’ve faced, even during a game. In practice when I’m going against him, I have to be on my A-game. And he finally got his opportunity to show what he can do.”
Most importantly Saturday, Davis came up big when Auburn needed him most. The Tigers converted 9 of 18 third downs against a defense that entered allowing teams to do that at just a 31 percent clip, and Davis made the catch on three of those conversions, gaining 5, 23, and 25 yards.
“Ryan is a really good football player. All season, he just gets open and catches the football,” Stidham said. “That’s about as simple as it gets, really. I think now he’s the record-holder, so I think that’s really just a testament to him and how hard he’s worked. He’s a great person, but he’s also a great, great football player, so hats off to him.”
Before the season, head coach Gus Malzahn said, Auburn challenged its older players to step up and take the lead for the younger players behind them on the depth chart. That went double for Davis, who despite being just a junior, had been playing wide receiver at the college level than anyone else the Tigers had at the position.
A school-record 69 catches for 703 yards and five touchdowns surely qualifies as stepping up. So does an 11-catch, 139-yard effort against No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
“It means a lot, all the hard work I put in,” Davis said. “But I couldn’t do it without my teammates, the receivers around me, the quarterback, the offensive line, and my coaches. I’m just thankful for how far I’ve come.”