Auburn, 11-0 and the champion of the Southeastern Conference Western Division with an 8-0 SEC mark, will play for the league championship in two weeks, and, perhaps have a chance at the national championship.
Alabama, which has been snakebit in many ways this year, continued to have bad injury luck Saturday, but also failed to take advantage of several opportunities. The Crimson Tide completed its regular season at 6-5. Bama is expected to receive a bowl bid to either the Music City Bowl in Nashville, the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, or the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. It will be the Crimson Tide's first bowl appearance since the end of the 2001 season because of NCAA sanctions.
Alabama made the game look closer than it was with a touchdown and extra point kick with 1:26 to play, points that could increase attendance at Gamblers' Annonymous meetings this week. Auburn had been an 8 1/2- to 10-point favorite.
Alabama had a 6-0 halftime lead, and had to think about lost chances in that first half. On Alabama's first possession, Bama's Spencer Pennington connected with Keith Brown on a 40-yard pass completion to the Auburn 15. But some razzle-dazzle turned into fizzle when the snap to flanker Tyrone Prothro sailed over Prothro's head for a 15-yard loss.
Brian Bostick salvaged three points for Alabama with a 42-yard field goal four minutes and 20 seconds into the game.
Meanwhile, the Alabama defense seemed to have Auburn's high-powered offense confused. At the end of the first quarter the Tigers had total offense of minus four yards.
Bama got the ball back at the Auburn 15 near the end of the first quarter when Prothro returned a punt for 40 yards. Bama made a first down to the Auburn five, and then begin to unravel. A first down penalty pushed the ball back to the 10. Then on third down from the five, Pennington was intercepted at the three.
Auburn returned the favor moments later when Tigers quarterback Jason Campbell's pass went off the pads of a receiver and into the hands of Tide cornerback Anthony Madison at the 25-yard line. Madison returned it 19 yards and was one of the first half heroes. He would become one of the second half goats.
As would frequently be the case through the remainder of the game, the offense was unable to produce. Three plays produced only one yards and Bostick was again called on. He connected on a 22-yard field goal for a 6-0 Alabama lead. It would be Bama's last highlight until a touchdown pass in the final minute and a half.
Auburn's best chance at a score came in the final seconds of the first half, but the Tigers missed on a 21-yard field goal try, the ball hitting the left upright to leave the Auburn scoreless at intermission.
But Auburn took over in the second half. Twice the Tigers exploited Madison on crucial passes. On the first possession of the second half, Campbell completed a 51-yard pass to Devin Aromashodu. That led to a five-yard touchdown run by Carnell Williams just two minutes and 41 seconds into the third quarter. John Vaughn's extra point kick gave Auburn the lead for good at 7-6.
With Alabama's offense not moving, Auburn got good field position for its second possession. The Tide defense seemed to have gotten its second wind with a chance to holdwith Auburn facing third and 17 at the Tide 32. But Madison was beaten again, this time a scoring pass to Courtney Taylor. It was 14-6 and there was no indication Alabama couild catch up.
Bama showed a little life with a couple of first downs to get to a fourth-and-one at the Alabama 48 with about two minutes to play in the third quarter. Bama elected to go for it, but the deep handoff to Kenneth Darby came up short.
Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula took responsibility for the decision to go on fourth down. He said it was a tough decision, "but I thought we could make it. It hurt us. Auburn got good field position and took it down for a score."
In that subsequent drive, early in the fourth quarter, Auburn also faced a fourth-and-one, inside the Alabama 10. While a field goal seemed like it would clinch the victory, Auburn went for it with a successful quarterback sneak. Two plays later Ronnie Brown got Auburn's third touchdown, a two-yard run that made it 21-6.
Bama made things mildly interesting with a late drive to a touchdown. With Pennington scrambling and passing, the Tide went 84 yards in 11 plays, the last an 18-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Hall for the touchdown on fourth-and-five. Alabama then kicked the final point of the game with 1:26 to play.
(Alabama kicked the extra point rather than go for two points because it is the correct decision. To go for two and not make it would effectively have ended any chance. By closing the score to eight points, there was opportunity–albeit slim–to tie the game with recovery of an onsides kick, a desperation touchdown and two point conversion.)
Alabama tried the onsides kick, but it was handled cleanly by Auburn and the Tigers were able to run out the clock.
The final Alabama drive, in which the Tide picked up five first downs and 84 yards, along with Auburn killing the clock with 29 yards in losses, made the final team statistics relatively close.
Auburn had 18 first downs (nine rushing, nine passing) to 15 for Alabama (only four rushing, 10 passing, one by penalty).
Neither team was able to get much down rushing. The Tigers great tandem of Ronnie Brown (16 carries for 55 yards) and Carnell Williams (15 carries for 41 yards) were basically held in check as Auburn had 41 rushes for 74 yards. Bama's top runner, Kenneth Darby, was out of the game for long stretches, apparently nursing an injury, and had 14 carries for only 19 yards. Freshman Aaron Johns was Alabama's leading rusher in the game with nine carries for only 24 yards as the Tide had 31 runs for a miniscule 50 yards.
Campbell completed 18 of 24 passes for 224 yards, while Pennington was good on 17 of 30 attempts for 226 yards. Both had one touchdown and one interception. Matt Caddeell was Alabama's leading receiver with four catches for 76 yards with Keith Brown having two for 44 and Prothro four for 42. Eight different Tiders had receptions.
Auburn had 65 plays for 298 yards, 4.6 yards per play, while Alabama had 61 plays for 276 yards, 4.5 per play.
Alabama was penalized three times for 20 yards, Auburn four times for 26 yards.
Prothro, who was promoted to punt return man two weeks ago, had two runbacks for 65 yards. He also returned two kickoffs for 39 yards. Hall replaced Brandon Brooks as the kickoff return man with Prothro.
Although Bo Freelend did not have a particularly good punting game with a 33-yard average on his four kicks (compared to a 48-yard average on four punts for Auburn's Kody Bliss), Alabama had better net punting, 33.8 yards to 31.8 yards for Auburn.
Bama was led defensively by linebacker Cornelius Wortham, who was in on 15 tackles (four primary, 11 assists).
In addition to Darby appearing to be hampered by injury, fullback LéRon McClain also missed playing time with injuries. He had suffered a severe ankle sprain against LSU a week earlier. In an incredible year in which Alabama's top two quarterbacks (Brodie Croyle and Marc Guillon), top halfback (Ray Hudson), and top fullback (Tim Castille) were lost to injury, Bama played Saturday with freshman Trent Davidson starting at tight end. Greg McLain and back-up offensive tackle Chris Capps also saw playing time at tight end as the two men who have started all year, Clint Johnston and David Cavan, were held out with injuries.
Pennington said, "Anytime you have a playmaker like Kenneth Darby, it's hard to be without him. When he's not at 100 per cent, our offense is not at 100 per cent."
Shula said that players who at the beginning of the year might not have expected to be in this game were among Tiders who "really laid it on the line in all three phases. We thought until the end that we could do it."
Shula was particularly pleased with Bama's defense, "especially in the first half. These guys have really been the strength of our football team."
He said while there are good things to take from the game, "You have to look at the score. The players were disappointed last week and they are disappointed this week, but they are still excited about the future. There have been a lot of changes here the past couple of years. The players have been the one constant. They have hung together, fought through it, showed everyone the right day to do things, and helped us in recruiting. They have worked hard. And we're going to get better because of those kind of guys."
Shula said, "We didn't play nearly well enough in the second half. And it catches up to you when you don't score touchdowns when you have the opportunity, like we did in the first half."
The Tide coach complimented Pennington. "I thought Spencer played well, and played within himself," Shula said. "He made good decisions and stayed in the pocket. He showed a lot of poise and was very decisive in that last drive."
Shula also noted the versatility and good play of Prothro. "Tyrone is very explosive and we want to get the ball in his hands," Shula said. "He's one of the ones that makes you feel good about this team the next couple of years." Tyrone (Prothro) is very, very explosive. We want to get the ball in his hands. He's one of the ones that makes you feel good about this team for the next couple of years.