A resurgent Auburn team that seemed to have every advantage over Alabama--they beat Florida, for crying out loud--turned out to be more mousy than monstrous, losing by the largest margin in 24 years.
The win over their in-state rivals was sweet vindication for Tide players, particularly those who had suffered through both a disastrous 2000 season and this year's highs and lows. But no one was more vindicated than senior quarterback Andrew Zow.
Relegated to the bench until Tyler Watts' injury last week, Zow played like a four-year starter, becoming the all-time Alabama passing leader in the process. He now has 5,893 yards, and is only two touchdowns behind Jay Barker's record of 35.
Zow showed a potent combination of arm strength, natural ability and game presence late in the first quarter, hitting Jason McAddley on a 45-yard touchdown pass in spite of Auburn pressure. He explained what happened on the play.
"I got a little pressure, and a guy kind of nipped at me a little bit. Jason was the first guy I was going to. I don't think he was open as much as I wanted him to be when I first looked at him, but right at the end he broke open. Going down, I just put enough air under it and let him run to it. With his speed, I knew he could get to it, and it was six points."
That play restored a seven-point Alabama lead, and gave the Tide a momentum boost they carried into halftime.
Immature quarterbacks don't make plays like that, and Zow showed his maturity both on the field and in his post-game comments. Asked if he'd prepared for this game differently, knowing he'd be the starter, he said, "I prepare myself like I'm going to start every week. ... Just give me the opportunity, I'm going to go out there and I'm going to play the way I should."
Zow, perhaps more than anyone on the team, has seen both exhilarating highs and soul-crushing lows during his years in Tuscaloosa. A 1999 season that featured a win in Auburn, two wins over Florida and an SEC championship was followed by last year's disastrous record. And this year's promise of a new start ended up with him riding the bench.
Did Saturday's victory erase any frustration he felt?
Zow says it certainly didn't hurt. "This same class beating Auburn twice, down here in Auburn, it helps us remember the better times since we've been here. It has been rough, but with this team, and the way this team has this team going, and this university, we'll be fine in the future."