I don't know if I've ever felt prouder of a team in defeat. The Auburn Tigers left their guts on the football field Friday and as a guy who recognizes maximum effort being given, the team with minimal to no depth played their hearts out and nearly pulled a stunner! Am I claiming a moral victory? Absolutely not! I'm claiming the Auburn Tigers fought like champions and led against a team that has steamrolled virtually every opponent it has played this season. They were fearless, aggressive, and united in the purpose of defeating an arch-rival, a team no one thought they could play with...not even their opponent. Alabama did what great teams do...they weathered an early onslaught, and went on a do-or-die drive converting multiple 3rd down attempts to win the football game in the end. When they had to have it, they delivered...and teams with depth and talent like they have have that capability. What this game displayed is the gap between the programs has narrowed considerably in one season...that's what made us proud! Losing this game is still a bitter pill to swallow. But, when even Alabama's band members felt silly singing "we just beat the hell out you!" as is tradition in post-game, you know you've garnered respect! They may not admit it...rephrase...they'll never admit it, but deep down they know, Alabama has no place else to go but down...and Auburn is on the rise!!
What I saw...
1. Auburn sold out to stop the run and was going to force Greg McElroy to beat them. They stymied the run better than anyone could have ever dreamed, but unfortunately, McElroy played well above his head and was mistake free.
2. McElroy- when he blew kisses in the direction of the Auburn faithful after throwing a TD pass to his tight end, I wish I could have jumped through the television set and do what Daren Bates did to him later in the game (a flying helmet to the throat)!
3. Daren Bates- his hit on McElroy was vicious and if he played on Sundays he'd be fined his whole game check. That being said...YOU DA MAN!
4. Who's the state's best back? Is it Ben Tate or Mark Ingram? Neither had a game they'll talk to their grandkids about one day. In fact, Trent Richardson was Alabama's saving grace. I think the perfect person to answer this question would be a common foe, a perennial all-everything defensive back from Tennessee in Eric Berry. You remember Eric Berry as the UT defender Ben Tate sent into the second row of Neyland on his way to 128 yards. He seems like a qualified candidate to settle the issue. Would he say Ben Tate? I'm not sure. What I do know is if I were fielding a team today who I'd take...and his last name rhymes with mine.
5. Alabama's decision to change its offensive set to spread Auburn out and throw 5-10yard routes was a good move on their part. It forced our extra defender out of the box (which surprisingly did nothing to help their run game) but it got McElroy in rhythm and settled the Alabama offense down.
6. Kudos to Johnathan Evans, true freshman reserve to Eltoro Freeman, for filling in admirably. He was out of position on a few 3rd down conversions covering backs out of the backfield and dropping into passing lanes, but all in all the kid played his tail off and made us proud.
Finally, the bowl game is huge for Auburn. Not the game itself but rather the preparation and practice time. It truly is equivalent to two spring trainings and the time spent on the field is critical to next seasons success...as hard as that might be to imagine. For a team looking to add/build depth at critical positions and turn the reigns over at others this is where it gets done.