While words like dominant and thorough come to mind after a performance in which the Tigers allowed the SEC's leading offense just 320 yards and one touchdown, but when it comes down to it physical is the word that best describes Auburn's performance on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"It was all about being physical," senior safety Travaris Robinson. "At the safety position myself and Junior Rosegreen, Coach (Gene Chizik) told us to take it out slow because we knew they weren't much of a passing threat. We had to be effective in the run; we had to be up there. It was vital for us to string them out and come up there and get some good hits on them. We just went out there and everybody totally felt we wanted this game. We didn't want to leave this game leaving like we felt after the Georgia game. We just stuck together and we did it."
A host of Tigers wrap up Alabama quarterback Tyler Watts as several Crimson Tide players look on.
Sticking together is what this team did all week after the disappointing loss to Georgia. Finding themselves 10-point underdogs in a rivalry game, the team had plenty of play for this week. Senior linebacker Mark Brown said the players heard all week long how bad they were going to lose and fed off that coming into Saturday.
"This is sweet," Brown said. "It's my senior year and it's even better when it comes in this fashion. Nobody gave us a chance with our third string (actually fourth string) tailback. We believed in ourselves and did what we had to do today."
A key component to Auburn's defense was a front line that took the fight to a much-ballyhooed offensive line for the entire game. Holding Alabama to 111 yards rushing and sacking Alabama quarterbacks four times for 21 yards, a group that had been questioned for much of the season came through Saturday when it mattered most. Sophomore Bret Eddins agreed with Brown that being put down all week helped Auburn's cause.
"I think anytime nobody really gives you a shot that's going to be motivation enough if you don't feel like you're getting the respect you feel you deserve," Eddins said. "In any aspect of life you're going to try to step up to the challenge. I think that really was a motivational factor but I don't think you really needed much motivation this week."
If the players needed any extra motivation then linebacker Coach Joe Whitt stepped forward to deliver his version of Sermon on the Mount, twice. Both Tuesday and Wednesday the veteran of 21 years at Auburn took the defensive players aside and explained to them what this game had come to mean to him. Robinson said that was something that made the players sit up and take notice this week and come out of the doldrums following the Georgia loss.
Dontarrious Thomas puts the heat on Watts in the second quarter.
"Coach Whitt sat us down and told us what this Alabama game meant to him," Robinson said. "He told us how much this means to the Auburn people and we wanted to do it for the Auburn people. They had in the paper that we gave up last year and all that. We didn't want to be known as quitters. Me being a senior, I didn't to go out that way. We wanted to come in here and give it all we had and if all we had didn't do it at least I knew we gave it all we had."
With a 17-0 lead at the break, Auburn came out in the second half to continue what they had done all along against Alabama's offense, put them in bad situations. Stopping the run was the main goal for the Tigers as it has been all season long. That was especially important against an offense that feeds off the running game like Alabama does.
"Their running game, you have to shut it down on first and second down and get them in third and long," Chizik said. "That's what the game plan was going in and we had to be able to do that to put pressure on the guy on third down."
Watching his defense on high from the press box, Chizik said he saw everything come together for his team Saturday but he said he knew all along this team had something special inside. From Horace Willis, who came back from allowing the game-winner last week to making several big defensive plays and laying the hit of the game on Alabama defensive back Waine Bacon on a punt return, to Robinson to Demarco McNeil, this defense is full of players that Chizik was proud of following the game.
"Everybody's question was, ‘Are they going to be able to come back after what happened last week?,'" Chizik said. "We talked about that all week and our kids have too much about them, there is too much character. They believe in what we are doing and they came out here and played their butts off today. It ended up being the way we wanted it to be."