Shane: The Iron Bowl—it is what it is

By Shane from Centerpoint

I’ve got to give the Auburn “family” a great deal of credit. The coaches, the players, and the fans invested every ounce of their hearts trying to upset their ultimate rival Alabama. I have no doubt that Pat Dye – Auburn’s former head coach and current top spokesman – is proud of his boys.

For roughly three and a half quarters Auburn hung with one of the very best football teams in America – had them on the ropes. However, the last half of the final stanza (when it really counted) was a disaster of titanic proportions for all that wear the orange and blue.

Chizik and his staff opened the game pulling a “Franchione” by scripting the first fifteen plays and even used Fran’s “on-side kick” maneuver on the Crimson Tide. Both plans worked well, allowing Auburn to jump out by fourteen on Bama.

This is the point where most good football teams (in their house) put the opponent away. It didn’t happen.

The Alabama team, in my opinion, was playing like it had overlooked Auburn. Anyway, it returned to form in the second quarter and tied the game before the half.

Auburn magic struck again early in the third act. The Tiger offense lit up the scoreboard with a long touchdown pass. The Auburn nation was on fire. Pandemonium reigned! Big brother Bama was just burned by the Malzahn machine and there would definitely be more to come.

No so fast my friends! After that play Alabama remembered that it does have the best defense in the nation. I don’t think Auburn came close to scoring for the last twenty-six minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide answered the Tiger touchdown with a couple of decent field–goal drives and time ticked away into the fourth quarter.

Amazingly, with ten minutes left, Auburn found itself with the advantage of having a one-point lead and possession of the ball in Alabama territory.

But by now, the Malzahn machine had lost its pilot. Senior quarterback Chris Todd had already pulled a “John Parker Wilson” by fumbling while taking a sack. He also lofted a pass directly to Tide safety Mark Barron. The results of Todd’s two turnovers were catastrophic.

With the ball sitting on Alabama’s forty-five yard line, Chizik had the world in front of his eyes. If only the offense could’ve pulled off another trick play, or maybe gotten close enough to kick a three-pointer, it would have forced the Tide to score six to win (which, by the way, Bama did).

That’s about when the Tigers’”storybook” got slammed shut by Saban and his Crimson elephants. The defense was in championship form, driving Auburn back sixteen yards in three plays. Auburn punted and the rest is history.

Then, it was gut-check time on the Plains. Auburn had the mighty Crimson Tide trapped, with seventy-nine yards of turf to protect. The collective roar of eighty-five thousand fans was pumping-up the Tiger defense for the kill.

In comes Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy. There wasn’t much pressure on him – just his team’s hopes for a national title and state bragging-rights. He also knew the game was on his back because the Tide’s running game had been shut down all day.

Would McElroy, who has never lost a game, finally taste defeat? Fifteen plays, seven minutes, and seventy-nine yards later, everybody had their answer.

McElroy completed seven-of-eight (four to a single-covered Julio) passes in route to firing a game-winning touchdown toss to Roy Upchurch with about one minute left in the game – a play that Upchurch called himself.

Auburn had one more shot at glory, but was ineffective — seemingly shell-shocked by Alabama’s last drive.

I’m not sure which was worse – Chizik’s clock-management before Alabama scored or after his offense got the ball back for the last time. Does Chizik own a watch? Bad clock-management by Chizik cheated the Auburn players and fans out of a fair shot. The entire episode reminded me of watching Les Miles coach.

In the end, most of the Auburn faithful seemed proud of the fact that their team “showed up” for the fight this time around. Normally, moral victories aren’t worth writing about. But, outsiders need to understand that the Auburn program measures its success largely on beating their obsession – the legendary Crimson Tide.

Regrettably, for Auburn fans at least, the Crimson Tide has a higher mission ahead. I don’t think the “Iron Bowl” had nearly as much impact on the Tide players this year. Truthfully, the Alabama program has been focused on Florida since the end of the fourth quarter in last year’s SEC championship.

Yes, beating Auburn helped Alabama complete its second undefeated (12-0) regular season in a row, but Tim Tebow and his Gators now dominate the Bama players’ minds. Last week’s contest with the Tigers isn’t even on their radar. “It is what it is.”

Where does Auburn go now, capping-off a late season collapse by losing to Alabama? I can’t see Tiger fans being happy with Chizik when they come down from their “Iron Bowl” high and realize that Chizik lost five of his last six SEC games. He went down to Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Georgia, and Alabama down the stretch, while only beating Ole Miss.

I can’t compare Chizik to Saban or Meyer, but I do know that he’d better thank the scheduler at Auburn for Louisiana Tech, Ball St., and Furman. Without those cupcakes on his dish, he might’ve finished his first (transition) year with a four-and-eight record.
—Shane writes a weekly column for the Call News and the Capstone Report.