3:30 PM ET, November 20, 2004
Bryant-Denny Stadium, TUSCALOOSA, AL
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 season.
"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 the game.
"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.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||6-13||3-14|
|4th Down Conversions||1-2||1-3|
|FG||10:40||BRIAN BOSTICK 42 YD FG|
Drive info: 9 plays, 55 yards.
|FG||9:00||BRIAN BOSTICK 22 YD FG|
Drive info: 4 plays, 1 yards.
|TD||12:19||CARNELL WILLIAMS 5 YD RUN (JOHN VAUGHN KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 80 yards.
|TD||5:50||COURTNEY TAYLOR 32 YD PASS FROM JASON CAMPBELL (JOHN VAUGHN KICK)|
Drive info: 9 plays, 58 yards.
|TD||11:31||RONNIE BROWN 2 YD RUN (JOHN VAUGHN KICK)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 52 yards.
|TD||1:26||D.J. HALL 18 YD PASS FROM SPENCER PENNINGTON (BRIAN BOSTICK KICK)|
Drive info: 11 plays, 84 yards.