Wounded Tigers Put The Hurt On Bama

A strong defensive performance and a makeshift backfield led the Tigers to a 17-7 victory in the Iron Bowl.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.--No first string tailback. No problem.

No second string tailback. Again no problem.

No third team tailback. Big problem, supposedly, especially if the fourth stringer is a true freshman who looks like he is 15 years old going against the nation's top-ranked defense. Making the task even more daunting was the absence of starting fullback Brandon Johnson, who was also out with an injury.

Tre Smith, the freshman who was unafraid of the spotlight and all the pressure of an Auburn-Alabama battle, stepped up and delivered when his team desperately needed a boost. He helped the Tigers jump to a 17-0 halftime lead and with the Auburn defense outplaying the supposedly better Tide defense, 17 points was more than enough.

Smith ran for 126 yards on 25 carries and Jason Campbell threw a pair of touchdown passes to his big junior tight end Robert Johnson while the Auburn defense kept the Tide out of the end zone on every possession, except after a Tiger turnover.

Tre Smith waits for the snap of the ball during Saturday's game.

Smith said that he was personally offended by the pre-game reports in newspapers and on TV and radio that the Tigers had no chance because they had no running game left after the injuries to Johnson, Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown and Chris Butler. "Everybody was saying that Jason Campbell was our only chance and that we were weak because we had no running game," an emotional Smith said after the victory. "We just showed everybody we could do it. Nobody thought we could do it. It feels so good."

Smith said the fact that all of Auburn's running backs have been putting up good numbers is a testament to play of the offensive line. "A back is only as good as his offensive line," Smith said.

Reggie Torbor said almost everybody counted the Tigers out after suffering a heartbreaking loss to Georgia last week. "We rallied around each other, like family, and gave it all we had."

If Auburn would have been able to hold off Georgia last week, the victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium would have clinched the SEC West title. Instead, the Tigers will probably have to watch the league championship game unless Arkansas and LSU lose again. "It hurt," Torbor said of the Georgia game. "Even as great as this win is in Tuscaloosa, it is still in the back of your mind where we could be now."

Linebacker Karlos Dansby drills Tyler Watts on the option play in Saturday's game.

Torbor said he wasn't the least bit surprised that Auburn improved its all-time record to 4-0 in Tuscaloosa, even playing a fourth team tailback and tight end Cooper Wallace at fullback. "I felt nobody could stop us but ourselves."

Torbor said he and teammates "pulled aside" their fourth team tailback for Friday night pep talks. "We told him you are young and you don't know what you are about to get yourself into, but we need you. We told him we really need you. This is big, don't get down on yourself, just play and have fun. That is what he did and I appreciate his efforts tonight."

Because of the offense getting the big lead while the defense was effective in stopping the Tide's bread and butter plays, the smoke draw and the option, Torbor said that the game plan for the Auburn defense worked perfectly. "They got in predictable situations in which they had to throw and they don't throw the ball as well they run. We just pinned our ears back and got after them."

Strong safety Junior Rosegreen and free safety Travaris Robinson were keys to stopping the Tide running game. Robinson had 10 solo tackles to lead the Tigers. "I am not surprised we won this game," he said. "I knew going in we had a great game plan and a great chance to win."

Rosegreen agreed and said he could tell the Tigers would bounce back from the loss to Georgia. "When we are playing like this, it is hard for a team to score on our defense," said Rosegreen, who added that he didn't believe Alabama would have scored without taking advantage of a third quarter Tiger turnover. "We probably would have goose-egged them again like two years ago," Rosegreen said.

Tommy Tuberville said that he thought that offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino had the best game plan of the season. Petrino used the pass to set up the run, at times going to five wide receiver sets.

Petrino said it was a joy to be a part of such an intense rivalry game and he and the offense came out swinging before Tuberville admitted that he pulled the plug on the passing game with Auburn's defense nursing a 10-point fourth quarter lead.

Auburn came out aggressively on the opening series, hitting a third and one bomb to freshman Anthony Mix on the third play from scrimmage. However, Auburn couldn't turn the play into points when Campbell was sacked for a 16-yard loss to the 41 forcing the Tigers to punt.

The second possession featured a big play, this one by tailback Tre Smith, and this time the Tigers cashed in. Smith raced 51 yards on a power play at right tackle. Two plays later, the Tigers led 7-0 on 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Robert Johnson, who made a nice move to reach the end zone. The three-play drive covered 67 yards and took just 1:25. The score came with 5:59 left in the opening quarter.

A good special teams play set up a score on Auburn's next possession. AU had a punt block on, but the return was the excitement on the play as Roderick Hood raced 36 yards to midfield. Six plays later the Tigers were in the end zone again and led 14-0.

The touchdown came on an 11-yard pass over the middle to Johnson, who was uncovered as the Campbell caught the Tide blitzing. The drive took just 2:24 and made the lead two touchdowns with 15 seconds left in the first quarter.

Auburn scored again on in its next possession, but had to settle for a field goal. Johnson nearly had another big play, but bobbled a pass that was then nearly intercepted. Two plays later the Tigers settled for a 40-yard Damon Duval field goal with 7:52 left in the second quarter on the 11th play of the possession.

Auburn's scoring streak ended on the next possession, despite having great field position when Hood's l7-yard return of a 33-yard punt started the Tigers at the 50. However, a second down sack put the Tigers in a hole they couldn't get out of and they had to punt.

There was no more scoring at the break after Auburn held the Tide on downs just outside the Tiger 30-yard line with 33 seconds left in the half.

At the break, Auburn had 220 yards of total offense, 79 on 19 running plays and Campbell hit 9-13 passes for 141 yards. Alabama had 83 yards on the ground on 18 carries and hit 7-16 passes for 81 yards.

The Tide got the ball to start the second half, but couldn't move and Auburn took over at its own 36. However, two plays later Alabama got the ball again on the first turnover of the game. Campbell's pass over the middle was deflected by defensive lineman Jarret Johnson and strong safety Waine Bacon was in the right place to make a diving interception at the Auburn 46.

With the help of two facemask penalties on the Tigers, Bama scored on an eight-play drive with running back Santonio Beard getting the touchdown on a one-yard sweep of left end. That cut the Auburn lead to 17-7 with 6:40 left in the third quarter.

However, that was the only serious scoring threat the Tide had all night though the Tide gambled seven times on fourth downs, converting two of those plays.

"What a difference a week makes," Tuberville said. "That is a classic of guys not being denied. We were beat up. We had one running back left. He rushed for 126 yards, but both sides of the line of scrimmage is what made the difference in this game."

Tiger Ticket Extra: Linebacker coach Joe Whitt, who has been on the Auburn sideline for every Iron Bowl game since 1981, is one happy man. "Our guys have a lot of heart," Whitt said. "This team had a lot of bad things happen to it all year, but like I told my guys, you just have to keep believing. I couldn't be more proud of these guys right now even if we were undefeated."

Tuberville had high praise for his defense and special teams, particularly the return work of senior Roderick Hood. He also couldn't resist pointing out that the Tide had never scored on Auburn in Tuscaloosa. "It took them 103 years to score here, but they did get seven points. And, you can right that."


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