Alabama Collapses In Loss To Auburn

Alabama Coach Nick Saban preaches having a team that starts fast and finishes strong. Bama started fast against Auburn, and had its foot on the throat of the number two team. But the Crimson Tide suffered an offensive shutdown that turned the finish to a whimper.

Alabama, the defending national champion, isn't even state champion after blowing a lead of more than three touchdowns as Auburn kept its season undefeated with a 28-27 win at Bryant-Denny Stadium Friday.

Alabama had a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter and held on for a 24-7 halftime lead, but the offense particularly faltered time and again with the game on the line. Bama quarterback Greg McElroy had a record-setting performance, but after passing for 335 yards in the first half, had only 42 yards passing in the second half before going out of the game when injured with just over five minutes to play. He was injured while suffering his fifth sack of the game.

Meanwhile, Auburn's Cameron Newton, who had only an average fist half and managed only 39 yards on 22 carries, completed three touchdown passes and ran for one touchdown to bring the Tigers back. Auburn will play in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game against South Carolina and if the Tigers can win there will have a chance to play for the national championship.

Newton's third and final touchdown pass came on a third-and-four from the Alabama seven with just under 12 minutes to play in the game. He found tight end Philip Lutzenkitchen completely unguarded in the end zone. Wes Byrum's fourth extra point of the game was the winning margin.

Alabama-Auburn statistics

Alabama will learn on December 5 its bowl destination.

Alabama had injuries in the game, including Greg McElroy suffering a concussion late in the contest. The early report from Alabama Coach Nick Saban was that McElroy would be all right for the next game and that others who were injured--notably wide receivers Julio Jones and Marquis Maze--were also expected to return.

Alabama's 24-7 halftime lead was carved out primarily on first quarter domination. The Tide missed opportunities for even more points with two trips inside the Auburn 10 and another chance deep into Tigers territory that netted a total of only three points.

There wasn't much bad news in the first half, but those failures to get points would look big later as Auburn forged into a fourth quarter lead.

Conventional wisdom had it that the team that won the toss would want the football. Wrong. Auburn won the toss and deferred, starting Bama at the Crimson Tide 29. From there it took Greg McElroy only seven plays to negotiate the 71yards. McElroy began his string of 12 straight completions to start the game with three in the opening drive -- one to Julio Jones for nine on the first play of the game, one to Darius Hanks for six yards, and one to Mark Ingram for eight yards. After a pass interference call against the Tigers, Ingram took it up the middle for the touchdown. Jeremy Smelley kicked the first of his extra points for a 7-0 lead with 11:34 to play in the first quarter.

While Alabama was scoring touchdowns on the Crimson Tide's first three possessions, Auburn was going three and out.

Bama got the ball for its second drive at the Alabama 19. McElroy made quick work of the Tigers, who were playing a few downs without star defensive tackle Nick Fairley. McElroy hit Preston Dial for 13 yards, and then found Julio Jones behind the Auburn secondary. Jones took the pass at the Alabama 45 and no one was close to him as he completed the 68 yard touchdown. The scoring drive of two plays and 81 yards and taken 37 seconds and Bama led 14-0 with 8:39 left to play in the first quarter.

Auburn's next "drive" included Tigers star quarterback Cam Newton being sacked on both first down (by Marcell Dareus) and second down (by Courtney Upshaw), both seven yard losses. After an incomplete pass and a punt, Bama was starting at its 39.

McElroy hit Julio for first downs of 11 and nine yards. On a third-and-eight play, Fairley made the sack on McElroy for a loss of 11 yards, but Fairley was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving Bama fourth-and-four at the Auburn 32. McElroy scrambled, and then zipped a pass to Marquis Maze on the sidelines for a gain of nine and a first down. McElroy passed 11 yards to Julio for a first down, then completed a 12-yard pass to Hanks for the touchdown and a 1-0 lead with 1:58 remaining in the first quarter.

McElroy had completed 10 of 10 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns.

Alabama's next possession looked promising when Ingram took a short pass from McElroy and raced 41 yards to the Auburn 19, but Tigers defender Antoine Carter came from behind and knocked the ball out of Ingram's hands. The ball rolled all the way into the end zone, where Auburn recovered it for a touchback.

Although Auburn got its first first down of the game on the ensuing possession, the Tigers eventually had to punt from the 30 and got only a 20-yard effort. From midfield the Tide drove to a first and goal as McElroy connected with Jones for 42 yards to the Auburn 3. But Trent Richardson dropped a pass, a Richardson run failed to gain, and a pass was incomplete. Bama had to settled for a 20-yard field goal by Shelley and a 24-0 lead.

From there Auburn began playing faster and better and Alabama not so well.

The Tigers came back with an eight-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by Newton finding wide receiver Emory Blake behind Tide safety Mark Barron for a 36-yard touchdown. Wes Byrum kicked the extra point and Auburn was on the board, though down by 24-7.

Alabama's offense again failed to finish. McElroy completed six straight passes -- including an 11-yarder to tight end Preston Dial to set up a first-and-goal at the Auburn seven. After a Mark Ingram run lost a yard, McElroy was hit from behind by Auburn defensive line star Fairley. McElroy fumbled and Fairley recovered, keeping Bama from at least a field goal try in the final minute of the first half.

It didn't take long in the second half for Auburn to let everyone know the Tigers weren't down for the count. On the second play of the third quarter the Tide's outstanding safety, Barron, was victimized again. Barron went for the ball and missed both the ball and the tackle on a long Newton pass to wide receiver Terrell Zachary. The play covered 70 yards and cut the Tide lead to 24-14.

Alabama had great field position after a kickoff out of bounds, but the "drive" died 10 plays later and Cody Mandell had his first punt of the game.

Alabama held, but moments later Mandell was punting again. This time the Tigers went 75 yards in nine plays. Bama was hurt particularly by Auburn running back Onterio McCaleb, who had a pass reception for 15 yards and runs of 11 and 20 yards. Newton then ran twice for a first-and-goal at the one and the quarterback took it in to cut the Tide lead to 24-21.

It took a special teams turnover to get Alabama on the scoreboard for the only time in the second half. After a miserable possession in which Bama gained three yards in three plays from its 20, Mandell punted to Quindarius Carr at the Auburn 35. Carr took a huge hit from Upshaw, fumbling the ball. It was recovered at the Auburn 27 by Bama's Dre Kirkpatrick.

For a moment, Alabama seemingly remembered the success of the McElroy to Jones plan of the first half. Jones caught passes of 15 yards to the 12 and then five to the seven. On a second down play, McElroy again threw to Jones and he was interfered with in the end zone. But officials detected a false start by Bama on the play, so instead of first and goal at the one, it was third down at the 12. McElroy was flushed from the pocket and out of bounds at the 15. Shelley was good on the 32-yard field goal, but the six-point lead, 27-21, left a feeling of precariousness.

Auburn made the Tide pay for its failure to score touchdowns.

Auburn's winning drive started in the third quarter and finished early in the fourth quarter and included the Tigers gambling and winning big time. Facing fourth and seven at midfield, Newton completed an eight-yard pass to Darvin Adams to keep the drive alive. Newton and tailback Michael Dyer had runs of 12 and 13 yards, respectively, to set up the final score of the game.

Julio Jones suffered a bruised knee on the ensuing kickoff as Alabama's offense continued to founder. Still, the Tide got into Auburn territory. Trent Richardson was at tailback for what would be Bama's last realistic chance of victory. He had a couple of runs for a first down and a pass reception for nine yards that Alabama eventually turned into a first down with a fourth down quarterback sneak. Ingram returned to the lineup and had a couple of nice runs for a first down at the Auburn 34 with seven minutes remaining in the game.

And then Alabama failed to finish. Or Auburn did. Ingram lost three, a pass was incomplete, and then McElroy was sacked and injured with five and a half minutes to play.

Bama punted it away. Eventually the Tide stopped Auburn and got a return punt to the Tide 19. With A.J. McCarron at quarterback, the Tide had four incomplete passes -- not all of them McCarron's fault.

Alabama had the edge offensively, 71 plays for 446 yards to Auburn's 61 plays for 324 yards, but in the second half Alabama had only 67 total yards while Auburn had 237 yards.

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