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The state of Alabama is easily one of the most passionate in the country about its football. But those that live there must choose a side, as they lack their own NFL team. They will forever love either the Alabama Crimson Tide or the Auburn Tigers, and when the two universities met at Auburn on Saturday for the 76th Iron Bowl, those who selected Alabama received year-long bragging rights following a 42-14 victory.
But there was far more than just bragging rights at stake for both ends coming into this matchup. For #2 ranked Alabama (11-1) and its fans this game was all about avenging last year’s heartbreaking 28-27 loss to then #1 ranked Auburn after blowing a 24-point lead.
Despite being ranked just 24th in the BCS this time around, the Tigers (7-5) and their faithful supporters were still basking in the glory of the monumental comeback behind eventual Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton, in what turned out to be an undefeated national championship season.
Alabama, who also won the national title in 2009, aimed to make another bid at the championship game with a win, but defeating them and completely destroying those aspirations would make a challenging 2011 season all worthwhile for Auburn.
Auburn did not appear fazed from the outset, as their stadium erupted after they forced Alabama into a three and out on the game’s opening drive.
But Alabama remained as composed as they have been all year long, as they were able to also get their defense off the field in just three plays on the opposition’s first possession; setting the tone for another dominating performance by their top-ranked defensive unit.
The Crimson Tide then proceeded to open up the scoring shortly after with an 81 yard drive that concluded with quarterback A.J. McCarron’s first touchdown pass of three on the night – a 41 yard flea flicker to sophomore receiver Kenny Ball. McCarron was extremely efficient, completing 18 of 23 passes going for 184 yards.
Alabama seemed to be in cruise control after scoring another touchdown on a 35 yard reception by tight end Brad Smelley. They were having their way offensively and allowed only one Auburn first down throughout the entire first half.
But the Tigers managed to get on the board and cut the lead to 14-7 after recovering a fumble by McCarron in the end zone.
However this was only one blip by the Crimson Tide, who didn’t really have any at all. They added on another 10 points and went into halftime leading 24-7.
Auburn needed a major spark to begin the second half and received just that when junior Onterio McCalebb ran back the opening kick 83 yards for a touchdown. They felt hopeful, as they were right back in the game at 24-14.
“We knew we had to execute,” McCalebb said. “Once I saw the hole, I hit it, and after that, I knew nobody could catch me.”
But unfortunately for the Tigers, Alabama’s defense allowed only 140 total yards of offense, gave up just nine first downs, and surrendered zero points on defense. Without any more points off turnovers or special teams, Auburn was unable to score for the remainder of the contest.
The Crimson Tide ran away with the game in the second half, adding a field goal, a 35 yard interception return touchdown from defensive back Dee Milliner, a two point conversion, and a 15 yard touchdown run late by Jalston Fowler.
Senior running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson had a career game, making a five yard touchdown reception, running for 203 yards on 27 carries, also breaking off a 57 yarder in the process. It was also the ninth 100 yard rushing game of the year for him, tying him for the team record with 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
“Anytime you got No. 3 (Richardson) in your backfield, a team’s going to challenge you, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen all year,” said McCarron.
The game was clearly controlled by Alabama from start to finish, and now they’ll wait to see if the BCS will give them a birth in the national title game in New Orleans this January. Auburn, who took a step back this year, will still play in a bowl game, although it will not be of the BCS variety.
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