Iron Bowl build-up spells

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 21, 2001



Sports Columnist

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One thing I’ve learned in my twenty-plus years of watching the Iron Bowl: be very careful about building a team up too much going into the game.

It’s kind of a cliché these days, but this is a game where the records of the two participating teams mean absolutely nothing. And it’s a game in which, all too often, the expectations placed on one team end up being the reality of the other team.

So what did people expect to see in this game? In a nutshell, most expected to see a blowout. They anticipated watching a young, up-and-coming tailback run roughshod over a helpless, hapless defense.

And you know, come to think of it, that’s pretty much what they got.

Except apparently, someone sent the scripts to the wrong locker rooms.

Auburn came onto its home turf at Jordan-Hare Stadium seeming to have bought into what all the media was trying to get us to believe – that the Tigers could have just mailed this one in.

Just look at the numbers: 7-2 Auburn, with their freshman sensation Carnell Williams, who had carried for 422 yards in his last three games, against 4-5 Alabama, with an injured starting quarterback and a defense that couldn’t stop the pass or keep opponents out of the endzone in the fourth quarter. The numbers don’t lie, they say ­ oh, but they do often mislead. It’s when you delve farther into the numbers that the truth comes out.

Although it’s true that Williams had stacked up over 400 yards rushing in three games, it had been on 76 carries (41 in one game). That’s an average of 5.5 per carry ­ not bad, but not quite as spectacular as he was being built up to be. It became painfully obvious Saturday that Coach Tuberville had put all his eggs in "Cadillac’s" basket, and when he left the game after only six plays with a broken collarbone, Auburn looked utterly lost.

And as for the wins and losses, although the Tide has come up short more often than not this season, it was just that ­ coming up short ­ in virtually every game. They were always in it to the very end. Auburn, on the other hand, in their three losses for the season, have been blown out. Any team that can legitimately defeat then top-ranked Florida in the same season that it is dominated by the likes of Arkansas and Syracuse, is not exactly the poster child for consistency. The Tigers, after all, were forced to rely on the foot of Damon Duval for victories often early in the season, and were the beneficiaries of a severe brain cramp by the Georgia offense on the final play to preserve a victory in their last game.

If you believe in omens, you had to be a tad uneasy about the way the game started off, with Duval badly missing a routine field goal on the opening drive.

However, when Alabama’s first attempt was blocked, followed by the two teams swapping touchdowns, it appeared we would have a typical seesaw Iron Bowl battle. Normally, Alabama would be expected to grind out the remainder of the half on the ground, satisfied with taking a tie to the locker room.

However, what happened next is the stuff legends are made of. The Tide ran eight more plays, six of which were passes. The last of these looked for all the world like quarterback Andrew Zow was throwing the ball away to avoid being sacked. Running to his right and off-balanced, he unleashed an almost-underhanded throw 45 yards downfield to a wide-open Jason McAddley to give Bama the lead with seconds left until halftime. Most consider this the play that broke Auburn’s back. It was without a doubt one of those plays that will be replayed on television and in the minds of fans for years to come. It belongs right up there with Lawyer Tillman’s Reverse, Van Tiffin’s Kick, and ‘Punt Bama, Punt’.

If that play didn’t do it, then Alabama’s Gator-esque, two-play 80 yard drive to open the second half surely put the Tigers in traction for the rest of the day. A 33-yard strike from Zow to Freddie Milons quickly quieted the Auburn faithful, followed by a 47-yard gallop by Santonio Beard through a gaping hole in the Auburn defense.

The final nail in Auburn’s coffin came late in the third quarter. The members of the Tigers’ punt return team were putting on their helmets as Alabama was facing a third and 23 deep in its own territory. Instead of the obvious pass play, Ahmad Galloway took the hand-off on a draw play and scooted 25 yards to keep the drive alive. A 10 yard TD pass to Terry Jones capped the drive, leaving only a 26 yard field goal by Neal Thomas to a put the icing on the cake in a rare Iron Bowl blowout.

The game was sweet indeed for three all-but-forgotten seniors on the Tide roster. Terry Jones, Jr. had proven himself a weapon in years past, but had been left out of most of the Tide passing game this season. He had a couple of key receptions early on to move the chains, but the sweetest was the TD reception to give Bama a three-TD lead. Jason McAddley had been overshadowed by the emergence of Sam Collins, but had six receptions this day, including the highlight-reel TD in the first half.

And what can you say about Andrew Zow? Class personified. A former SEC champion quarterback, relegated to the bench for most of the season, keeps himself focused and prepared and makes the most one could possibly make of his opportunity when called on to replace the man (Tyler Watts) who replaced him. He accepted his role graciously and was rewarded with being forever etched in Iron Bowl folklore.

Unfortunately, this game often becomes the "what- if" bowl, but the absolute domination of this one by the Crimson Tide left no doubt who deserved the win. 549 yards of offense (more than twice Auburn’s total), four touchdown drives over 80 yards, and not a single three-and-out series all day for the offense. The defense allowed only one TD and 41 yards rushing with five sacks. Two separate tailbacks ran for over 100 yards each, both averaging over nine yards per carry. In the words of a radio host I heard earlier, the turning point of the game appeared to be when the eagle flew onto the field (before the opening kickoff).