With McNeil helping dominate the line of scrimmage, the Tigers limited Alabama to just 23 rushing yards on 22 carries. Then a redshirt freshman defensive tackle, he played a major role in shutting out the Crimson Tide. That victory, along with a loss by Mississippi State, wrapped up the SEC West title for the Tigers in Tommy Tuberville's second season as Auburn's head football coach.
McNeil and the Tigers also left Tuscaloosa with the satisfaction of taking a 9-0 victory in the first Auburn-Alabama game played on the Tide's campus in 99 years.
Two years later, McNeil and the Auburn defense head to Tuscaloosa with another chance to win the SEC West and, just like on their previous trip, they are going to need some help from other teams in the SEC West to keep alive hopes for finishing at the top of the division for a third straight year. McNeil and the Tigers are also looking for some payback for an embarrassing 31-7 loss suffered against Alabama last year at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn. That loss is something they have been reminded of everytime they walk into the weight room for training by strength and conditioning Kevin Yoxall and his staff who have the date prominently displayed on the wall.
A win over the Tide last year would have sent the Tigers back to Atlanta for the league championship game, but Auburn didn't come close. "We had a chance to wrap it up, but we just didn't get the job done," McNeil notes.
The Tigers got a mulligan in the SEC West race a week after the normal regular season finale vs. Bama as they faced LSU in a game that had been postponed from September due to terrorism threats across the country. The Tigers lost that one, too. "Then we had a chance the next week to do it as well and we still didn't get the job done," McNeil says.
Demarco McNeil is a key player in Auburn's defense.
The job that McNeil and the Tigers have to do looks more daunting than in recent years because Alabama has played good football leading into its annual showdown with the Tigers. Although the Crimson Tide is ineligible for the SEC title due to major NCAA sanctions and cannot participate in the SEC Championship Game, the team has played well this year and comes into Saturday's game off of an impressive 31-0 road whitewashing of slumping LSU, the team that still leads the SEC West. However, McNeil says that is not what is on his mind this week. "We are just trying to get ready for this game and not think about Atlanta as much," he says.
The Tide offense offers plenty to think about as it averages 30.8 points per game while Auburn averages 32.5. The Tide attack has been particularly strong running the ball with an average of 216.5 yards per game. The Bama passing game has been solid, too, and that helps explain why the Tide is averaging 413.8 yards of total offense per game.
McNeil, who notes that the Crimson Tide offensive line has a well-deserved reputation for holding the defensive linemen they are assigned to block, says that the Bama front will offer him perhaps his biggest test of the season as he tries to escape their grasp on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The start time is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. McNeil says he believes the Tigers will give a better account of themselves than they did in 2001. "Last year, we had a pretty good defense, but we got exploited in several of the games and Alabama was one of them. Now we are clicking, just about on all cylinders, but we have just got to play for four quarters."