(2) Alabama - 26, Auburn - 21
- John Zenor, AP Sports Writer
November 27, 2009
AUBURN, Ala. -- Pushed to the limit and outplayed most of the game,
No. 2 Alabama found its championship form in the nick of time.
Roy Upchurch celebrates his game-winning touchdown against Auburn.
The Tide stayed perfect with an imperfect 26-21 victory Friday over
Auburn, taking the lead with a tenacious drive that was capped by Greg
McElroy’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Roy Upchurch with 1:24 left.
The Crimson Tide (12-0, 8-0) didn’t get much help from Heisman Trophy
candidate Mark Ingram, but still completed a second straight perfect
regular season in the Iron Bowl.
Alabama did it the hard way, falling behind in the opening minutes,
but ultimately did its part to set up a 1 vs. 2 showdown with
top-ranked Florida in the SEC championship game.
Forget the national and conference championships, the state title
almost slipped away.
“The strong do survive but the strong do get their butts kicked,”
Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “That was my message to the team.”
Auburn (7-5, 3-5) pushed the ball to the Alabama 37 on the final
drive, wasting lots of time and gaining not nearly enough yards.
Chris Todd’s final pass to the end zone was batted down by Rolando
For the second straight day, one of the three teams at the top of the
BCS standings was knocked woozy, but did not fall. Much like No. 3
Texas, which held off Texas A&M 49-39 on Thanksgiving night, Alabama
found out being a big favorite against an archrival sometimes doesn’t
TCU and Cincinnati, the unbeaten teams behind Florida, Alabama and
Texas in the national title race, are left to hope Florida State can
pull an upset against Florida on Saturday that might open the door for
them to reach the national title game.
Alabama needs one more win to get to Pasadena, Calif., for the Jan. 7
BCS title game.
Needing one more score to take the lead against Auburn, the Tide
called a timeout and switched out of a running play and went to a
senior back without a touchdown catch in his career.
“I was yelling at everybody, ‘Put me in! Put me in!”’ Upchurch said.
“No one was hearing me. I just had the feeling that I’d be wide open
in the end zone. They changed the play.
“Patience pays off and today I’ve got a story to tell.”
The Tide survived a shaky effort by its usually stellar defense and a
sub-par game by Ingram.
The SEC’s leading rusher was held to 30 yards on 16 carries and was
on the bench for most of the game-winning drive. Saban said he
believed Ingram had a bruised hip.
“Something like that,” Ingram said. “I’ll be all right.”
McElroy and Julio Jones took over without him, aided by five runs and
a 17-yard catch by freshman Trent Richardson on the 15-play, 79-yard
drive that consumed more than seven minutes.
McElroy, who has been criticized at times as a weak link in an offense
with a powerful running game, completed his final seven passes for 62
yards. Jones made four catches on the winning drive, three for first
“We didn’t play a great game today,” Saban said. “It’s a great win.
I’ve never been prouder of them.”
Auburn fans remained in the stands for several minutes when it was
over, some seemingly stunned and others applauding a
closer-than-expected game, while a sizable crimson-and-white
contingent celebrated. A handful of ‘Bama players later returned to
the field briefly.
Until the final minutes, Auburn had supplied most of the big plays
and its maligned defense largely outplayed the nation’s top unit.
“You have to love games like this,” Tigers linebacker Josh Bynes
said. “It comes down to the end and you find out who the man and who
the boy is.”
Auburn outgained Alabama 332-291 and dominated on the ground 151-73.
McElroy was 21 of 31 for 218 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was
sacked three times.
The Tigers were shellacked 36-0 by ‘Bama last season to have a
six-year Iron Bowl winning streak snapped.
“I just told them that we’re not walking out of here with heads down,”
first-year coach Gene Chizik said. “We’re a family. We’re a family
when we win. We’re a family when we lose.
“Everybody in that locker room that played did what we asked them to
do. They fought for 60 minutes in that game. I’m not disappointed
with anybody on our team. Nobody.”
The Tigers stunned the Tide by rocketing out to a 14-0 lead in the
first 9:18. Alabama hadn’t allowed a touchdown in two games.
Receiver Terrell Zachery raced 67 yards for a touchdown on an end
around on Auburn’s opening drive. It was the longest play Alabama’s
defense had given up all season by 15 yards.
Then the Tigers recovered an onside kick to set up another score.
Alabama regained its footing. Richardson scored on a 2-yard plunge
and McElroy hit tight end Colin Peek for a 33-yard touchdown that
tied it at 14 at the half.
“You have to pick your medicine,” Ingram said. “If you want to stop
one thing, we have to execute other aspects.
“Coming on the road, down 14-0 in a hostile environment, we weathered
On the first drive of the second half, Todd pump faked and hit Darvin
Adams for a 72-yard touchdown to make it 21-14.
Alabama had three straight trips across midfield, ending with two
field goals by Leigh Tiffin and Ingram’s failed fourth-and-1 run.
Auburn was left nursing a 21-20 lead going into the fourth.
“We didn’t play with a lot of passion, and I don’t understand that,”
Saban said. That changed late.
The Tigers had a solid chance to extend the lead after taking over at
Alabama’s 44 following yet another defensive stand. But the Tide
defense made it’s best stand of the day, tackling Ben Tate for a
7-yard loss and sacking Todd.
That set the stage for McElroy, who must have won over even his most
ardent doubters with the poise and precision he displayed as the clock
Afterward, Saban headed off the field with his right index finger
raised toward ‘Bama fans. A fan in an Auburn orange shirt said,
Saban tilted his head, expressionless, and walked into the tunnel,