Well, not exactly…
While this year’s Iron Bowl was eerily similar to last year’s version, it was more a mirror image rather than a replica. The stakes were much the same. One team was ranked No. 2 in the BCS, undefeated, and had aspirations for an SEC championship and beyond, including a potential Heisman winner. One team’s season was a bit of a disappointment (though the expectations were drastically different, so disappointment is quite relative) and looking to play spoiler. The home team was ranked lower, but came out full of passion and energy to take an early lead. The Heisman candidate was contained for much of the first half. But ultimately, the away team mad adjustments, rallied together, and took the lead on a fourth quarter touchdown that won the game.
Last year it was the Crimson Tide of Alabama that avoided the stumble against rival Auburn. This year it was the Tigers’ turn.
Much like Mark Ingram last year, Heisman hopeful Cam Newton was held in check on the ground, just 39 yards on 22 caries though he did get a touchdown. But unlike Ingram, Newton made up for his lack of running game by passing the ball; he is still a quarterback after all. Newton finished the day 13 of 20 for 216 yards and 3 TDs; but most importantly, he didn’t throw any picks.
Auburn’s much-praised offense was pitiful for most of the first half. In fact, they were down 21-0 before it ever picked up a first down. Really, Auburn only mustered positive yards on one series. Luckily for the Tigers, it ended in a 36-yard pass from Newton to Emory Blake for a touchdown and the Tigers’ only points of the first half.
If the offense was pitiful, Auburn’s much-maligned defense was simply abysmal. The secondary was torched for 300+ yards through the air – most of which was QB Greg McElroy connecting with WR Julio Jones in some miraculous way that transcended mere football. It looked like Jones just willed himself to be open and it was so. Too easy for a QB of McElroy’s ability to miss.
Bryant-Denny was rocking. The Tide players were elated and dominant. The Tigers looked to be finished. In one game, they could see their SEC and national title hopes slipping away, as well as Newton’s hope to be the first junior college transfer to win the Heisman. A terrible day in T-town as mighty Cameron looked to be striking out.
Not so fast, my friend.
Though I have been hard on Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof (and I do think there is much to be desired), he has responded in two straight games with nearly flawless adjustments. Georgia and Alabama scored a combined 13 points in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters of their games against Roof’s defense. But they also scored 42 points in the 1st quarters. But with an offense as explosive as Auburn’s, it doesn’t seem like they are ever out of it.
The Tigers dominated the second half, outscoring the hometown Tide 21-3 capping the biggest comeback for the Tigers in school history. Newton got things back on track, utilizing his often overlooked and frequently undervalued ability as a passer. With Alabama crowding the line, the Tigers took to the air.
But I believe the Tigers won the game good old-fashioned stick-to-it-tiveness. Hustle plays, taking care of the ball, and never giving up were critical to Auburn’s success in their biggest test of the season – biggest crowd, toughest environment, best team, and biggest deficit all wrapped into one. But the Tigers showed heart as they have done all season, coming from behind in 8 of their 12 games. Much like their in-state foes did a year ago, the Tigers refuse to quit and refuse to lose.
What a difference a year makes. The Tigers head to Atlanta this week to play for the SEC championship and a spot in the BCS title game. The Tide wait around to find out which bowl game fate delivers them. The Tigers look to make a clean sweep and add another Heisman trophy to the case to go along with a national title. The Tide think about how close they were to greatness.
What is the difference? The son of a preacher man.