Auburn's last chance to pull out the victory ended on a pass that fell incomplete in the end zone as time ended.
First-year head Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said he was disappointed his team didn't pull out a victory, but he wasn't disappointed in the way the Tigers went about trying to make it happen.
"I just told them that we are not walking out of here with heads down," Chizik said. "We are a family. We are a family when we win. We are a family when we lose. Nobody has to like the outcome of this game, but everybody in that locker room who played did what we asked them to do.
"They fought for 60 minutes in a game that was really, really tough, and I said that we were going to build on that from there," Chizik said. "Unfortunately for the seniors, it is the last home game ever that they are going to play here, but we have a bowl game, and we are going to have another good opponent to play.
"We have one more game together as a team, and our aim is to go win that game. Again, we are not walking out of this building today with our heads down, but we are going to know right now that the future is bright."
Auburn's defense gave the Tigers a chance to pull off the upset holding Alabama star running back Mark Ingram to 30 yards on 16 runs. Supposedly a Heisman Trophy candidate as the nation's top player, he wasn't even the best player on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Friday.
Despite playing with just three healthy scholarship linebackers, including true freshman Jonathan Evans who made his first college start, the Tigers held the Tide rushing attack to 73 net yards on 35 carries. For the game Auburn out-gained Bama 332-291.
"I could be prouder of the effort our guys gave on defense," said coordinator Ted Roof. "Our guys played with a lot of effort."
Commenting on Evans, the true freshman who started in place of injured starter Eltoro Freeman, Roof said, "I thought he did a solid job. I?was proud of his effort. He made some mistakes, but everybody makes some mistakes."
Evans made eight solo tackles, which was second on the team behind linebacker Josh Bynes, who had seven solo tackles and three assists.
Chris Todd hit 15-25 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw an interception. There were just two turnovers in the game and both were by the Tigers, something they definitely couldn't afford to do against a team that came into Jordan-Hare Stadium undefeated. Darvin Adams was Todd's favorite target as he caught four passes for 138 yards and one touchdown.
Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said, "We got off to a good start right there and played pretty solid football in the first half. In the second half we never really got into a rhythm. I?am proud of our guys. They fought their guts out against the best defense in America. We are building a foundation and they can't forget that."
The first quarter belonged to the Tigers. After the Auburn defense forced a three-and-out on the first possession, the Tigers didn't waste time scoring on their first chance to do something with the football.
On the next play the Tigers hit the Tide on a big play. Terrell Zachery raced 67 yards on a reverse around left end. He cut back to the middle of the field and cross the goal line to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
The Tigers got the ball back immediately as Wes Byrum's perfectly executed on-side kick was recovered at the AU 42. This time the Tigers kept the football for 12 plays before scoring on a one-yard pass from Chris Todd to Eric Smith with Byron Isom in the backfield as a lead blocker. The biggest gainer on the drive was a 22-yard pass to Darvin Adams.
After another three-and-out for the Tide, the Tigers had their first unsuccessful possession as Todd twice missed wide open tight end Tommy Trott over the middle.
The second quarter belonged to the visitors who tied the score by halftime. The first touchdown was a two-yard run by Trent Richardson to cap a drive that covered 58 yards on 10 plays with 13:26 left in the second quarter.
With 5:31 left in the period quarterback Greg McElroy connected with tight end Colin Peek as he beat linebacker Josh Bynes. Daren Bates, who was on a safety blitz, hit the QB, but was late and got a personal foul on the play.
The only first half turnover was a fumble by Todd who was hit by Eryk Anders on a blitz. Anders recovered the ball at the Auburn 48. The Tide managed a first down on a 12-yard pass to Julio Jones but had to settle for a 42-yard field goal attempt by Leigh Tiffin that fell well short after Mike Blanc got his hand on the football.
Auburn moved the ball to a first down at the Tide 36, but the drive stalled there on fourth and 13 forcing a punt to the Tide which ran two plays and went into the locker room tied.
At the break, Auburn had 193 yards to 162 for the Tide. Auburn held the ball for 32 plays, two less than the Tide, which held a 15:34 to 14:26 of possession advantage. Alabama had 39 rushing yards on 17 carries while hitting 10-15 passes for 123 yards. The Tigers had 21 carries for 123 yards while hitting 7-13 passes for 70 yards.
Daren Bates, Jonathan Evans and Antoine Carter tackle Tide running back Trent Richardson.
Auburn regained the lead less than four minutes into the second half as Adams caught a 72-yard touchdown pass from Todd on a pump fake from Todd on the sideline. "Chris threw a perfect pass on the play," said Adams, who put the Tigers up 21-14.
The Tide added field goals of 27 yards and 31 yards in the third quarter to cut the lead to 21-20.
Auburn's offense, which had looked good early, struggled to convert third downs in the second half and didn't score in the fourth quarter. That turned out to be a big deal as the Tide finally figured a way to move against the Auburn defense throwing short pass routes to Julio Jones to move into scoring territory. Jones caught nine passes for 83 yards to lead the Tide offense along with McElroy, who hit 21-31 passes for 218 yards and two scores.
"Both teams played really well," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "Auburn's team played extremely well, played with great tenacity. I?have never been more proud of my football team."
The Tide moves to Atlanta next week to play Florida for the SEC title while Auburn will take several days off before resuming practice to get ready for a bowl game.
" They are a very good football team, but again, I want to say I am really, really proud of every guy who played in an Auburn uniform tonight," Chizik said. "We played with a lot of heart and we fought all the way down to the end. We have built a great foundation for what we are going to do in the future, and I am just very proud of our kids.
"I appreciate our fans supporting our guys as we were running off the field which is not surprising," Chizik added. "I am very proud of our team. Obviously, I'm disappointed that we lost. Again, we are looking forward to down the road."
Behind linebackers Bynes and Evans, cornerback Neiko Thorpe was Auburn's third leading tackler with seven solos and one assists. Freshman safety Daren Bates added five solos and two assists while Craig Stevens contributed three solos with three assists.
Defensive tackle Nick Fairley added four tackles, was credited with a half of a sack and three QB hurries.
"Our lack of depth kind of hurt us this season, but that game shows what we can do if everybody plays together," said Stevens, whose Tigers will take a 7-5 record into a still to be determined bowl venue.