Moments before Auburn kicked-off against No. 2 Alabama in the 2009 Iron Bowl, no one would have believed that Heisman hopeful running back Mark Ingram would be whipped by an underdog Auburn team.
"We stopped the run, the Heisman hopeful," Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman said.
Auburn's defensive plan for Alabama was simple: Stop the running game. That meant stopping Ingram, the SEC's leading rusher and a Heisman candidate who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Going into the game, Ingram had rushed for 1,399 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, averaging 127.18 yards a game.
But Auburn stopped him cold.
"We were physical," Coleman said. "We knew they were going to come in running the ball. They had a great running back. We knew we were going to have to stop the run and we did."
Alabama entered the game undefeated and ranked second in national polls. Auburn entered the game with four losses and no national ranking. But the Tigers did have a cause.
In a team meeting, just hours before kick-off, Coleman got his team's attention. He had one request. "Go out and fight for me," Coleman said. "I'm a senior, and I love all those guys and every last one of them did it for me," he said. "I have no regrets. I left everything on the field, and I'm pretty sure these guys did, too."
Auburn held the Tide to just 73 total rushing yards. Seventy-three. Ingram alone has averaged 127.18 yards a game all season.
Forced to pass, Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy completed 21 of 31 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns.
"We figured they would flash and take some deep shots and they did," Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "Our thinking going in was we were going to make it a throwing game and keep it in front of us and stop the run."
Third-team linebacker Jonathan Evans started and led Auburn's defensive effort with eight solo tackles. Josh Bynes and Neiko Thorpe made seven solo tackles each, and Daren Bates recorded five. Coleman had two solo tackles and helped out with two more for a total loss of six yards. He was credited with a sack and a half of McElroy for a loss of four yards.
"I was really proud of our kids," Roof said. "We just came up a little bit short. They gave great effort. We changed a couple of things around a little bit, but our thinking was we had to stop the run and I thought we did a good job of that. Our kids fought hard. They left it all on the field. That's all we can ask of them."
Even so, Coleman bristles when asked if Auburn's defensive effort was a "moral victory." Auburn lost 26-21, falling in the final minutes of the game when McElroy connected with Roy Upchurch for the game-winning touchdown.
"There is no such thing as a moral victory," Coleman said.
Roof agreed. "We've got to find a way to make one better play or one better call or one more inch of something," he said.