TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Jason Campbell looked every bit the
Heisman Trophy contender and Auburn (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today, No. 2 AP) certainly played like a
national championship contender -- at least in the second half.
The Tigers' 21-13 victory over Alabama wound up as a survival
contest instead of a hoped-for statement game, and left coach Tommy
Tuberville lobbying for his team.
"This is the Iron Bowl and that's what it should be like,"
Tuberville said. "People will say, 'They struggled,' and most
people who vote haven't been at this game before."
Still, the question is will an impressive final 30 minutes be
enough to cancel out a 6-0 halftime deficit and lackluster start in
the minds of poll voters. The Tigers (11-0, 8-0 Southeastern
Conference) were tied for No. 2 with Oklahoma in the AP Top 25, but
third in the Bowl Championship Series standings behind second-place
Oklahoma, which beat Baylor 35-0, and Southern California.
Again, Tuberville had strong opinions on the matter: "We should
be top one -- but we'd take two."
Instead of touting their dominance, the Auburn players pointed
to their resilience -- something they haven't needed much of this
"When we were down, no one panicked or pointed fingers," said
tailback Carnell Williams, whose 44th touchdown run broke Bo
Jackson's school record.
"We weren't concerned," said Campbell, who passed for most of
his 224 yards after halftime and finished 18-of-24.
He then celebrated by waving an Auburn flag in front of the
visiting fans section while several teammates stomped on a homemade
Alabama banner. But their dream destination, the Orange Bowl,
loomed over the celebration, with fans tossing about a dozen
oranges onto the field.
Even the nation's top scoring defense ran into a little trouble
late. Alabama (6-5, 3-5) drove 84 yards on 11 plays in the final
minutes, scoring on Spencer Pennington's 18-yard pass to D.J. Hall
with 1:26 left.
Courtney Taylor recovered the onside kick for the Tigers, who
ran out the clock.
They completed their first perfect regular season since 1993,
when the team was on probation. Auburn will get one more chance to
make an impression with poll voters and computer programs against
Tennessee in the SEC championship game on Dec. 4, but might need a
loss from Oklahoma or USC to make the Orange Bowl.
The defense kept Auburn from serious trouble in the first half,
holding the league's No. 1 running team to 50 yards on 31 carries
and allowing only three points out of two first-and-goal situations
for the Tide. "This thing could have been over at halftime if the
defense hadn't shown up," Tuberville said.
Kenneth Darby, the SEC's second-leading rusher, was hampered by
a strained abdominal muscle and sprained ankle and had just 19
yards on 14 carries.
Alabama has been outscored 104-20 in five Iron Bowls in
Tuscaloosa, and has lost three straight meetings for the first time
since Auburn won four in a row from 1986-89.
The Tigers finally looked like the team that has been dominating
SEC teams most of the season in the second half, taking charge of
"They hadn't really been in that situation all season," Tide
linebacker Cornelius Wortham said. "They showed what type of team
they were in the second half. They went into the half, took care of
their Xs and Os and came out a different team."
Campbell hit Devin Aromashodu for a 51-yard pass down the left
sidelines and Williams bounced outside for a 5-yard touchdown to
cap a six-play, 80-yard drive to open the half.
Campbell hit Taylor for a 32-yard touchdown pass on third-and-17
on Auburn's next series to make it 14-6. Brown added a 2-yard TD
plunge early in the fourth quarter.
Campbell was 8-of-9 for 143 yards in the third after passing for
just 61 yards and an interception before the half against the
nation's top pass defense.
Brown and Williams combined for just 96 rushing yards.
Fast starters all season, the Tigers came out looking
out-of-sync, losing 4 yards on their first three series. Campbell
had to burn timeouts on successive plays on the second series and
it didn't get much better.
The Tigers slumped off the field after John Vaughn missed a
21-yard field goal as time expired on the half.