Tide Crushed

An Alabama football team that over-achieved all year was unable to achieve Saturday as the Crimson Tide lost its second consecutive game and probably played its way into a lower tier bowl game. While a 9-2 regular season record is better than almost anyone predicted going into the season, it was disappointing that Bama was not very competititve in its final game.

Conventional wisdom was that Alabama needed to get off to a fast start against Auburn, or at least not let Auburn get off to a fast start. As it turned out, people were still getting into their seats while the Tigers took a three-touchdown lead en route to a 28-18 win over Bama in Auburn Saturday.

Alabama, which was ranked as high as third in the nation late in the season, lost its final two games and fell to 6-2 in Southeastern Conference play. Pre-game speculation was that an Alabama win would put Bama in either the Orange Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl as a BCS entry. Now the thought is that Alabama might be in the Cotton Bowl against the winner of the Oklahoma-Texas Tech game or might fall to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.

Alabama could not have performed more poorly in the early going and the result was too big a hole to dig out of. Auburn had only one play on its side of the field in the first quarter and Alabama couldn't get out of the shadow of its goalline.

All three areas contributed to Alabama falling out of contention at the midway point of the first quarter.

On special teams, the kickoff return didn't make it back to the 20. On offense, Brodie Croyle was sacked twice in the first three plays. Back to special teams, the Tide got a delay of game penalty while trying to kick from its own end zone and Auburn started at the Tide 40. And on defense, Bama helped Auburn's short drive along with a personal foul penalty. The Tigers completed the 40yard drive in only six plays, the last a seven-yard pass from Brandon Cox to Ben Obomanu.

And it didn't get better. Trailing 7-0, Auburn kicked off into the end zone, but Alabama was called for a face mask penalty and started at its own eight-yard line. A 22-yard punt by Jeremy Schatz set the Tigers up at the Alabama 31 and led to Auburn's second touchdown. Kenny Irons got it on a three-yard run.

Although Alabama continued to do nothing on offense, the defense gets most of the blame for Auburn going up 21-0 as the Tide was completely fooled on an Obomanu end-around that went for 45 yards and a touchdown.

Alabama showed a glimmer of life after Charlie Peprah caused and recovered a fumble, giving Alabama the ball at its own 37. Kenneth Darby had a 19-yard run and Croyle connected with tight end Travis McCall on a 19-yard gain as the Tide drove to a first down inside the Auburn 10. Darby ran it to second and goal at the one and two plays later Tim Castille got it in for an Alabama touchdown.

The Tide offense went back into hibernation for the rest of the quarter, and Auburn made a couple of big third down plays to drive to a final first half touchdown and a 28-7 lead. All year Auburn has been successful with Cox starting right, then rolling back to the left and throwing to the tight end. It worked easily against Alabama as Cox hit an unguarded Cole Bennett on the five-yard touchdown play.

Surprisingly, that was it for Auburn. Alabama's defense shut out the Tigers in the second half. And the kicking game gave Alabama some second half opportunities. But the Tide offense was never able to get much going, primarily because the offensive line could not protect Croyle.

Alabama came out with some fire in the second half. The defense held, Brandon Brooks (part of couble deep) had a 33-yard punt return to the Auburn 34. Kenneth Darby got nine, then 13 to a first down at the Auburn 17, but then the offense stalled, ending with Croyle being sacked. That forced a long field goal try, and Jamie Christensen was good on the 43-yard attempt to close the score to 28-10.

Auburn fumbled the ensuing kickoff and ended up at its three yard-line. The Tigers avoided a safety, then got a good punt out and eventually got field position changed. Another opportunity was presented when Auburn fumbled a punt at about the 30, but the Tide couldn't fall on it.

Alabama had a late chance to get a score, but a drive inside the Auburn 15 ended with another sack of Croyle, the 11th of the game.

The reins were turned over to freshman quarterback John Parker Wilson for the last two minutes, and Wilson delivered. He connected with D.J. Hall on a Hail Mary for 37 yards to the Auburn one, then took it in himself for the touchdown. A pass to Hall was good for a two-point conversion and the final points of the game.


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