For the fourth time in five years, the University of Alabama football team has beaten Auburn. And for the fourth time in five years, it won't even stop to celebrate because there are bigger fish to fry. That is the measure of where Nick Saban has brought the Alabama program. Four times in five years, the Crimson Tide's regular season has been a prelude to bigger things in the postseason. In 2008, Alabama came within a play or two of upsetting Florida and making it to the BCS National Championship Game but could not overcome Tim Tebow that time. The next year, it did, and finished the run in Pasadena, Calif. After one interruption in 2010, Alabama made it again in 2011 without even having to go through Atlanta. So the Crimson Tide's current situation, in control of its own destiny, is exciting but not new. If anything, it is status quo.
Alabama dominated so completely, even Tide defensive back Dee Milliner admitted he was a bit surprised: "I never thought it would get like that." Afterward, Saban even appeared downright jolly, as he opened his postgame news conference joking about how he couldn't get any of the postgame pizza in the locker room. He said he asked one of the linemen to share but was refused. "This was a great team victory," Saban said. "Everybody contributed. We asked for everyone to play their best game today. When you make a commitment to something, it comes from the heart, and I really thought our players did that. Our players did a good job of that today and competed well in the game."
Melton attended the game with his cousin, Ben Melton, who was at his 40th straight Iron Bowl. Melton’s uncle, Oakley Melton, had been to every Iron Bowl since 1948 until the the streak ended last year. Melton said Auburn being such a huge underdog took a little of the excitement out of the game for him. "You want to beat them, but you don’t want to see it this bad," Melton said. "I just want to get past the game with no one getting hurt."
OVERALL F: Itís the end to Auburnís worst season in half a century. No conference wins. The Tigers werenít competitive in a league game the final two months. Alabama looks so light years ahead of Auburn that maybe the school should seek a demotion to the Sun Belt. Scratch that. Auburn would have struggled to finish in the top half of the Sun Belt this season. There has to be plenty of changes.
42: The number of points Alabama scored in the first half. It is the most points scored in the first half of an Iron Bowl. It was also the second straight game Alabama put up 42 points in the first half. It was also Alabamaís 42nd win in the Iron Bowl against 34 losses and one tie.
A look back at previous Alabama-Auburn games clearly reveals one thing: Clyde Bolton pretty much had this rivalry pegged in the 1970s. The longtime Birmingham News sports writer once wrote: "If you throw out the record book in the Alabama-Auburn rivalry, all youíve got is a missing record book." In other words, in a game in which both sides are known to bring their best in a fiercely fought battle, there have been relatively few surprises over the years.
"Coach talked about being physical on both sides of the ball," Lacy said when asked about his yards after contact. "Just because youíre on offense doesnít mean you canít deliver a blow. Thatís the mindset we came into the game with offensively. We were able to break tackles and get extra yards." That wasnít limited to running backs, either. Cooper caught five passes for 109 yards Ė including touchdown receptions of 37 and 29 yards. On Cooperís second touchdown, he caught a deep slant as Auburnís Jake Holland, Jermaine Whitehead and Jonathan Mincy all converged on him at the same time. Cooper took the shot from all sides, was able to keep his balance and raced the final 10 or 15 yards for the touchdown as the three Tigers were on the ground, looking like toppled bowling pins. Norwood also caught five passes for 65 yards, with touchdowns of 7 and 38 yards from McCarron. Saban said his quarterback put Alabama in the right play throughout the time he was in the game. "We were trying to go at a particular look Ė two high safeties, safety down or whatever it is," Saban said. "Sometimes itís run-to-run or sometimes itís run-to-pass, but he is a pretty bright guy and he did a pretty good job."
Favored by 34 points, the Crimson Tide blew by that margin before halftime. The first-team offense scored touchdowns on all seven of its possessions. The Tide punter didnít get on the field until the fourth quarter. Toward the end, the Tide was driving for a touchdown that wouldíve set the scoring margin record, but on fourth-and-goal at the Auburn 5, Alabama had backup quarterback Blake Sims intentionally take a knee and hand over the ball. A moment of mercy, perhaps? But even with all of Auburnís problems this year under Gene Chizik, who will lose his job, this one isnít all on the Tigers. Alabama played that well, maybe its best game of the year. Maybe its best since pounding Michigan in the opener. This wasnít the Crimson Tide that struggled with a physical LSU team and suffered a third-quarter letdown three weeks ago. This wasnít the Crimson Tide that looked tired, sloppy and out of sorts in losing to Texas A&M two weeks ago. Alabama looked ready to dominate, and Auburn simply stood in the way.
Chizik and Auburnís players also insisted that this seasonís unthinkable crash ó which came two years after a national title and one year after an 8-win season, complete with a bowl victory ó was all about a lack of execution, momentum and confidence that never developed and a snowballing, negative vibe. It couldnít possibly have been about talent. Indeed, recruiting rankings say that Auburn has talent comparable to Alabamaís, but Alabamaís talent has outscored Auburnís 91-14 over the past two years. It couldnít possibly be about coaching, not when rivals Georgia and Alabama manage to outscore Auburn 87-0 this year and 174-21 over the past two years. When a process- and accountability-driven rival that Auburn beat six years in a row from 2002-07 and again in 2010 so humiliates the Tigers two years in a row, it couldnít possibly be questionable evaluation on top of an atmosphere of lost accountability. Dream on, indeed, Auburn players and their soon-to-be former coach, and take a cue from the marching band. The band seems to execute its act and have yours pegged.
Auburn hasn't scored an offensive touchdown in the last two meetings since Cam Newton & Co. completed the rivalry's largest comeback in the Tigers' last visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium two years ago. This one supplied another milestone of sorts. It's the first time Alabama has scored 40-plus points in two straight Iron Bowls, following last season's 42-14 win when Auburn managed to score on a kick return and fumble recovery. The 42-0 halftime score was the same as the Tide had last week against FCS team Western Carolina, which finished 1-10. The previous largest halftime margin in the Iron Bowl was 34-0 by Auburn in 1957 in a 40-0 win during its only national title run before 2010. "We had that sick feeling in our mouth," offensive lineman Chad Slade said. "You know, you hate to feel that way. I lost it last year, and I lose it this year. It's hard, it's real hard just to speak on it. Next year has to be a different story."
"Obviously, that was a very disappointing and embarrassing loss to our in-state rivals. It was obvious to everybody. It was a sad performance and the Auburn fans and the Auburn alumni don't deserve that. We did all the classic things in a football game that you can't do and expect to win. We just got beat. We weren't very efficient offensively, we certainly weren't very efficient defensively and special teams we were very sporadic as well. Again, a very poor performance."