- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- When it was all over, Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof could smile.
He was even in a mood to crack a joke.
“I think it’s safe to say that we’re a second-half defense,” Roof said with a wry smile.
Not only that, the Tigers are an opportunistic defense. They’re a resilient defense. They’re a defense that can transform from really bad to really good in a half. They’re a defense that makes adjustments and executes those adjustments with precision.
Most of all, they’re a defense that wins games.
How else do you explain the Tigers’ defensive turnaround Friday in their stunning comeback from 24 points down to ambush Alabama 28-27 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, snapping the Crimson Tide's 20-game home winning streak?
This was no run-of-the-mill turnaround, either.
This was a full-fledged transformation. We’re talking Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.”
Of its 379 yards of total offense in the first half, Alabama had 235 yards after the catch on 19 receptions. It looked like a 7-on-7 drill out there.
But in the second half, the Crimson Tide managed just 67 yards -- period.
“We don’t really pay attention to numbers,” Auburn safety Zac Etheridge said. “We just go out and keep fighting. A lot of people are saying, ‘Is the defense good enough?’ But we know we’re going to get the job done in the second half.
“That’s what we do. We finish games.”
Forget that Auburn was ranked 60th nationally in scoring defense entering this game and 50th in total defense.
When it matters, the Tigers might as well be ranked first.
They haven’t allowed a point in the fourth quarter in their past two games.
Alabama’s only points in the second half Friday came after the Tigers fumbled a punt away at their own 27 in the third quarter. But the Crimson Tide had to settle for a field goal.
“We knew in the first half they gave us all they had,” Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes said. “They threw all their punches, all the hooks, all the uppercuts and everything they could. We knew they weren’t going to change anything in the offense and were going to run the offense they know how to run and we were going to play the defense we know how to play.
“We were going to go out there and play physical and hard and go out there and win this game, and that’s what we did.”
Roof said it’s the best half of football his defense has played all season. The first half might have been one of the worst.
“Our guys are fighters,” Roof said. “That’s what they are. They have great competitive spirit and great heart, and when you have that, you don’t quit. If you just keep playing hard, something good will happen.
“So far, so good.”
Roof thinks it all started in the second quarter with Antoine Carter’s hustle play. The senior defensive end chased down Mark Ingram on the tail end of a 41-yard pass and was able to poke the ball loose from behind, and it squirted all the way through the end zone for a touchback.
“That was the start of getting our feet back under us,” Roof said.
Equally big was Nick Fairley’s sack of Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy just before halftime. The Crimson Tide looked like they were about to make it 31-7 at the half, but Fairley shot through a gap and pounced on McElroy. The ball popped loose, and Fairley was there to recover.
Just with those two plays, the Tigers saved themselves six points … and probably more.
“Defenses are going to always bend and give up a big play here and there,” said Fairley, who had two more tackles for loss to raise his SEC-leading total to 20. “As long as we don’t keep breaking, we’re good.”
Roof said one of the unsung qualities about his defense this season has been its ability to adjust.
The same goes for Auburn’s defensive staff when it comes to making the right adjustments, especially at the half.
In the second half Friday, the Tigers attacked a lot more and were much more aggressive when it came to pressuring Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the final minutes.
“There’s some tweaks in everything you do,” Roof said. “Our kids did a great job adjusting, flying around and hanging in there. The resiliency they have is something. They believe if they keep playing hard, something is going to happen and it did.
“It’s one thing to make adjustments. It’s another thing to go take them onto the field, and they have all season.”
Here’s something else the Tigers have done all season: Live on the edge defensively.
But with December football on the docket and a trip to the BCS National Championship Game in sight, who cares about the way it looks?
Or for that matter, who cares about numbers?
Right now, the only numbers that count are 12 up and zero down.