TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's fans were subdued to start Saturday's game. They seemed restless to shove little Louisiana-Monroe aside and get on to Auburn.
You know, the matchup that really defines a season for the Crimson Tide.
The Sun Belt's Louisiana-Monroe, which beat Nick Saban and Alabama 21-14 in Tuscaloosa, is not a good team. Not even by Sun Belt standards. Back on Oct. 13, ULM lost to North Texas 31-21. It's still the only win of the year for 1-9 North Texas.
By the way, if you're counting at home, here's a list of some of the teams that have won AT Alabama over the last decade:
This might just have become that game for Nick Saban's reeling team -- a stunning 21-14 upset to the 24 1/2-point underdogs from the Sun Belt Conference.
Quintez Secka had two interceptions and Louisiana-Monroe (5-6) forced four turnovers, blocked a field goal and turned Alabama away three times on promising drives in the fourth quarter. The result was the Tide's third consecutive defeat.
It was a sloppy performance that left Saban, paid $4 million a year to turn around a traditional power, "embarrassed for all our fans."
"I'm certainly not pleased the way we represented that tradition today," Saban said. "We did all the things in this football game that get you beat regardless of who you play.
"We just did a lot of things today that is not winning football. I think we're all responsible for it. It starts with me. I don't think we had a very good week of preparation."
The WarHawks had nothing to apologize for in a rare win over a Southeastern Conference team for their school and their league, both of whom have been bullied by the big, bad SEC.
"This win means everything to our program right now," tailback Frank Goodin said. "It's the biggest win as far as I know for this program."
It was the WarHawks' first victory over an SEC team since beating Mississippi State in 1995 and their third in 33 tries, improving their record to 3-29-1. The Sun Belt had been 0-11 against the SEC this season.
Louisiana-Monroe held firm every time Alabama appeared poised to tie the game.
The Tide (6-5) had a third-and-2 at the Louisiana-Monroe 18-yard line, but Terry Grant was stuffed for no gain on back-to-back runs. The drive began at the Louisiana-Monroe 26 after a 19-yard punt return by Jonathan Lowe.
It wasn't over quite yet even after that blown opportunity.
Louisiana-Monroe failed to get a first down and had to punt, giving Alabama one final shot from its own 37 with 56 seconds left and no timeouts.
James Truxillo batted away his final attempt, drawing a cascade of boos from Alabama fans who had been mostly quiet except for scattered expressions of displeasure. Chants of "U-L-M" rose from the tiny section of Louisiana-Monroe faithful.
Junior running back Jimmy Johns, making his first career start, lost a fumble deep in WarHawks territory with 4:41 left in yet another missed chance for Alabama, which also had Leigh Tiffin's 36-yard field goal attempt blocked on the final play of the third quarter.
"I think it was pretty embarrassing," said Wilson, who threw for 246 yards but had two first-half interceptions. "We let a lot of people down. We shouldn't have lost. We're Alabama. We're supposed to win, and we're not doing it right now. You can't score 14 points and expect to win the game."
Not even when you outgain the opponent 409-282. While the Tide bumbled the ball, the WarHawks didn't commit any turnovers.
Attendance was listed as a capacity crowd of 92,138, but it was far fewer than that. Alabama didn't give its fans much incentive to make enough noise to intimidate the visitors unaccustomed to playing in such big venues.
"This is the No. 1 win since I've been here in the last five years," Louisiana-Monroe coach Charlie Weatherbie said. "We come in trying to win. We don't play to keep it close. We felt we had a chance if we stayed close in the ballgame to win in the fourth quarter."
Secka returned his second interception 38 yards to the Tide 1, setting up Dawson's TD run.
The Tide had been 15-0 against current Sun Belt teams and were expected to use the game as a tuneup for the Iron Bowl. Nobody told the WarHawks, who forced three first-half turnovers to forge a 14-14 tie then shut Alabama out in the second half.
The SEC's leading receiver, DJ Hall, was suspended for a violation of team rules but played in the second half with Alabama desperately needing a spark. Dangerous punt returner Javier Arenas left with a high ankle sprain.
Saban wouldn't say if Hall's suspension had initially been for a half or the game.
"It was what it was," he said.
The Tide did learn Saturday morning that five suspended players will be available to play in the Iron Bowl.
Before the game, Saban used recent basketball upsets as cautionary tales for his team.
"I talked to them about Grand Valley beating Michigan State, Gardner-Webb beating Kentucky," he said. "I ran the gamut on everything that I could talk about relative to respecting your opponent and getting ready to go out and dominate the people that you play. I failed in that, obviously."
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