NCF Nation: Tigers-Tide 112610

Auburn's defense right on time yet again

November, 26, 2010
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.

[+] EnlargeT'Sharvan Bell and Greg McElroy
AP Photo/Butch DillT'Sharvan Bell sacks Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy in the fourth quarter. McElroy would not return. The Auburn defense held Alabama to just 67 yards of offense in the second half.
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.


Video: Breaking down Auburn's comeback

November, 26, 2010

Chris Low and Ivan Maisel break down Auburn’s amazing comeback win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

Video: Auburn DE Antoine Carter

November, 26, 2010

Auburn defensive end Antoine Carter discusses his momentum changing play and the Tigers’ comeback win over Alabama.

Final: Auburn 28, Alabama 27

November, 26, 2010
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Auburn came back from the dead to rally from a 24-0 deficit and beat Alabama 28-27 on Friday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, snapping the Crimson Tide's 20-game home winning streak.

Here’s an instant analysis from the game:

How the game was won: After falling behind 24-0 in the first half, Auburn came storming back to outscore Alabama 28-3 the rest of the way, mixing in big plays on offense and a couple of crucial forced turnovers. Defensively, Auburn stopped Alabama in its tracks in the second half and held the Crimson Tide to a single field goal.

Turning point: Alabama, leading 24-7 in the final minutes of the first half, had a second down at the Auburn 8-yard line. But Nick Fairley burst through the line to sack Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, forcing a fumble that Fairley recovered.

Stat of the game: Alabama had 379 yards of total offense in the first half, but was held to 67 yards after halftime.

Player of the game: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton passed for three touchdowns and ran for a touchdown. His 7-yard touchdown pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen early in the fourth quarter was the game-winner for the Tigers.

Unsung hero: Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof was able to make several key adjustments at the half, and the Tigers shut the Crimson Tide down in the second half.

What it means: Auburn (12-0, 8-0) now needs just one more win to play for its first national championship since 1957. The Tigers, No. 2 in the BCS standings, will face South Carolina next Saturday in the SEC championship game in Atlanta. A win there and Auburn can lock up a trip to the BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz. The Tigers now own five wins over teams currently in the top 25 of the BCS standings and have come from behind to win four different times this season after falling behind by at least two touchdowns.

Auburn's defense showing its mettle

November, 26, 2010
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- As poorly as Auburn's defense played in the first half, the Tigers played like champions on that side of the ball in the third quarter.

Even after the fumbled punt, Ted Roof's guys stood their ground and held Alabama to a short field goal.

The Crimson Tide have been brutal in the red zone all game, but some of the credit/blame goes to the Auburn defense.

We all know how clutch Auburn has been defensively in the fourth quarter this season. Maybe the Tigers are just starting early Friday.

Tide's Marcell Dareus arrives just in time

November, 26, 2010
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It hasn't been the dominant season that many had predicted for Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus, but he's been a force in this game.

Several times, he's put pressure on Auburn quarterback Cam Newton or wrecked plays before they ever had a chance to get started.

Dareus was among the top 10 players this week on Mel Kiper's Big Board of 2011 NFL draft prospects, and he's playing like it right now.

At the half: Alabama 24, Auburn 7

November, 26, 2010
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama jumped out to a 24-0 advantage and leads No. 2 Auburn 24-7 at the half.

Here’s a quick halftime analysis:

Turning point: With his team trailing 14-0 in the first quarter, Auburn’s Nick Fairley sacked Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy on third down, seemingly coming up with a key stop. But Fairley was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his celebration on the field, giving the Crimson Tide a 4th-and-4 at the Auburn 32. Alabama went for it and converted, and McElroy hit Darius Hanks a few plays later on a 12-yard touchdown pass to make it a 21-0 game.

Player of the half: McElroy was 19-of-23 for a career-high 335 yards passing and two touchdowns. He opened the game by hitting his first 12 passes.

Stat of the half: Alabama had 11 first downs to Auburn’s zero first downs in the first quarter, and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was held to minus-10 yards on nine carries.

What Auburn needs to do: The Tigers had two huge defensive plays in the first half to keep the Crimson Tide from scoring even more points, but they have to do a better job on first down and get some three-and-outs early in the second half if they're going to get back into this game.

Greg McElroy stealing the show

November, 26, 2010
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It just dawned on me that I’ve seen this movie before.

This is Greg McElroy last season against Florida in the SEC championship game all over again.

We’ve played a quarter, and he’s 10-for-10 for 156 yards and two touchdowns, while his counterpart -- the Heisman Trophy front-runner -- has yet to complete a pass.

Cam Newton came into this game getting all the love, but McElroy has clearly been the better quarterback through a quarter of play.

It was a similar story last season when McElroy outplayed Tim Tebow.

Alabama's Dont'a Hightower shows up early

November, 26, 2010
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama needed middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower to have one of his best games of the season Friday if the Crimson Tide were going to slow down Cam Newton.

So far, so good.

It's been a brisk start for Hightower, who flew through and tackled Mike Dyer for a loss on third-and-short.

Hightower hasn't been the same player he was last season before blowing out his knee, although he's still been solid.

Tigers rallying around Newton

November, 26, 2010
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- We've heard questions for the past two weeks about how Cam Newton would react and how Auburn's team would react in the face of the NCAA's ongoing investigation into Newton's recruitment.

Newton demonstrated on the field two weeks ago against Georgia that he's not easily knocked off his game.

And in a lot ways, the team has seemed to rally around Newton.

Just before the Tigers went to the locker room Friday one final time before coming out to start the game, Newton gathered the entire team around him and was as animated as ever.

Gray skies in Tuscaloosa

November, 26, 2010
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The skies are gray, and the wind is whipping.

Nothing, though, has diminished the energy surrounding the 75th Iron Bowl, where Auburn will try and take a major step toward playing for its first national championship since 1957.

The temperature around kickoff is supposed to be just under 50 degrees, but it feels a lot colder than that with the wind blowing. The temperature is supposed to keep dropping, too.

The good thing is that it's not supposed to rain any more. All the rain has apparently moved out of the Tuscaloosa area.

Ingram: More at stake than playing spoiler

November, 26, 2010
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The 75th Iron Bowl has a familiar feel as a year ago.

The only difference is that the roles are reversed.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillMark Ingram says that despite having two losses, Alabama still can have a great season.
This time, it’s Alabama trying to ruin Auburn’s parade. Last season, it was the other way around, and the Tigers nearly did it after jumping out to a 14-0 lead and then forcing the Crimson Tide to drive the length of the field in the final minutes for the game-winning touchdown to keep alive their national championship hopes.

Auburn’s unbeaten season and national championship aspirations go through Bryant-Denny Stadium on Friday, and nobody needs to tell the Alabama players what’s going through the minds of the Auburn players right now.

“Everybody knows where they stand,” Alabama junior running back Mark Ingram said. “Anybody who was on our team last year knows how they feel. But at the same time, we’re not focused on how they feel. We’re not focused on what they have to do. We’re focused on us.

“We can’t be worried about them. They’re a great team and definitely talented, but we have to worry about ourselves.”

Ingram has cringed this week any time he’s heard somebody say that Alabama has a chance to play spoiler.

He doesn’t look at it that way, and neither do his teammates.

He said this game is more about Alabama and what it could do for the Crimson Tide’s season as opposed to how it could derail the Tigers’ season.

“We still have a lot to play for,” said Ingram, who along with the rest of that star-studded 2008 signing class -- including Julio Jones, Mark Barron, Barrett Jones, Marcell Dareus and Dont’a Hightower -- has yet to lose to Auburn.

“We lost two games earlier this year, and everything hasn’t gone the way we planned from the jump. But we can still have a great season, go to a great bowl game and finish 11-2. Everybody is looking at it like 11-2 is a bad year. But a lot of teams would be skipping around and happy at 11-2. That just shows you the type of standards we have in this program.

“We pride ourselves on winning around here and doing what it takes to be winners. That’s not going to change just because we have two losses.”