Tigers ride big plays to victory

Coaches say that football games are determined by a handful of plays and the team that makes those plays will win the game. Alabama was successful on a handful of plays, but Auburn was successful on more big plays and also thoroughly dominated Alabama offensively and defensively in Auburn Saturday night. <br><br>The Tigers scored on the first play of the game and were never headed in defeating Alabama 28-23.

The loss dropped Alabama to 4-8 on the season and 2-6 in Southeastern Conference games, while Auburn assured itself of a winning season by moving to 7-5. Alabama will finish its season next Saturday in Aloha Stadium in Honolulu against Hawaii. Kickoff will be at 6:45 p.m. CST (2:45 in Hawaii) with national television coverage by ESPN. Auburn is rumored to be headed to the Music City Bowl in Nashville to play Iowa.

As has been the case throughout the season, Bama fought the good fight. The Tide certainly never surrendered, scoring a touchdown in the final moments, then barely missing on an onsides kick effort for a chance at a miracle comeback.

Alabama made things interesting in the third quarter after Brandon Brooks opened the second half with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Tide offense also got in gear in the third quarter with its only sustained success, going 82 yards in eight plays to a six-yard Shaud Williams run for a touchdown that cut Auburn's lead to 18-16. But from there on until the final four minutes, Alabama's play did not match that of Auburn. Bama's final thrust was too little and too late.

Auburn's star running back blistered Bama for 80 yards and a touchdown on the first play of the game, then had time-consuming and ball-controlling run after run against Bama's defense. Meanwhile, Alabama could not establish a running game and the Tigers' much-maligned secondary won the battle against Bama's passing game.

Both Williams' 80-yard run and Brooks' 96-yard kickoff return took 15 seconds.

Although the Alabama offense didn't do anything in the first half and the defense was generally slow starting, the defense did get some surprise points on Auburn's second possession of the game. Bo Freelend had an excellent 57-yard punt to the Auburn two-yard line. On first down Carnell Williams was tackled in the end zone by Bama defensive tackle Anthony Bryant for a safety, meaning Williams had scored points on his first two opportunities – a touchdown for Auburn and a safety for Alabama.

The Alabama defense was at its worst on Auburn's next possession. A short pass was completed and then two Tiders missed tackles, turning the play into a 64-yard touchdown for the Tigers. Both of Auburn's long scoring plays went to Alabama's left side. Later in the half Bama left cornerback Charlie Peprah was removed from the game with Ramzee Robinson and David Scott splitting time handling those duties. Following the second touchdown Auburn went for a two-point conversion and was successful with Jason Campbell scoring on a quarterback draw.

Auburn added a first quarter field goal and it appeared with an 18-2 lead that a rout might be in the making. It wasn't to be. In part because of Auburn self-destruction – dropped passes, an unforced fumble, and some curious play-calling decisions – there was no scoring in the second quarter and Alabama was able to stay close until the very end.

Alabama was enthused for a brief time after Brooks opened the second half with his runback of the Auburn kickoff for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 18-9. On Bama's next possession the Tide had its most consistent drive, going 82 yards in eight plays. Shaud Williams had runs of 22 and 13 yards and Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle completed passes of 14 yards and 18 yards to set up Williams' touchdown run and cut the lead to 18-16.

Auburn answered with a long drive to a third quarter field goal and a 21-16 advantage, then got what seemed to be a clinching touchdown from Carnell Williams with 7:27 to play. That seemed even more certain when Alabama's offense, needing to answer quickly, had another stall.

The Tide did not get the ball back until only 4:10 remained in the game, but Alabama continued to battle. It took 11 plays and 3:07, but Bama got a touchdown. The Tide had to overcome a penalty that wiped out a 59-yard touchdown pass from Croyle to Zach Fletcher. Croyle hit Ray Hudson on passes of 22 (on fourth-and-seven) and 26. After a penalty, on a first-and-goal from the 14, Croyle passed to Triandos Luke in the end zone. Luke bobbled the ball, but it popped up into the hands of Lance Taylor for a touchdown. With just over a minute to play Alabama had cut the lead to less than a touchdown.

Kyle Robinson's attempt at an onsides kick was very close to being recovered by Bama, but it was ruled that a Tide player touched the ball just before it went the required 10 yards. In any event, Alabama would have had to try it again since the Tide was off-sides. Auburn was then able to run out the final minute of play.

Auburn had a big margin statistically. The Tigers had 21 first downs to only 11 for Alabama. Carnell Williams rushed 26 times for 204 yards to win the battle of the Williams. Bama's Shaud Williams had 18 carries for 93 yards. Auburn had 41 rushes for 249 yards, Alabama 34 carries for 111 yards. Auburn quarterback Campbell hit 18 of 27 passes for 270 yards, while Croyle was good on 13 of 29 for 180 yards. Both quarterbacks suffered interceptions.

Auburn had total offense of 68 plays for 519 yards, an average of 7.6 yards per play, while Alabama had 63 plays for 291 yards, 4.6 per play.

Hudson, who was in doubt for the game until late in the week, was the Tide's leading receiver with four catches for 82 yards. He also ran six times for 23 yards. Hudson had missed the previous week's game after having been arrested and charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana. Although it is a misdemeanor, the nature of the charge put Hudson in the doghouse. Fulgham was Bama's second-leading receiver with three catches for 58 yards.

Cornerback Anthony Madison was the Tide's leading tackler with eight primary stops and three assists. Linebacker Derrick Pope was also in on 11 tackles, four primary and seven assists. Roman Harper had a fumble recovery and an interception and was in on seven tackles. Charles Jones also turned in an interception.

Alabama had one interesting lineup change. Matt Lomax, who had been Bama's back-up center, got the call to start at tight end. Alabama has had numerous injuries at the tight end position, having lost starter David Cavan for the year and having Clint Johnston available for only very limited duty.

The win by the home team marked the first time since 1999 the visiting team had not won the Alabama-Auburn game. Auburn has now won three of the last four contests. Alabama has a 38-29-1 lead in the series.

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