In the history of Auburn football the biggest comeback had been from 17 points down prior to the victory over Alabama. That gives you perspective of just what Gene Chizik's team accomplished in Tuscaloosa.
There were a lot of big plays in the game, particularly from Auburn on the defensive side of the ball. The two caused fumbles were very important and all of the stops in the second half by the defense doing what it had to do to win the game enabled the comeback to happen. That turnaround came against a team the Tigers didn't slow down vertically for the first quarter and half.
It was a good thing for the Tigers that most of the yardage they gave up in the first half was from the passing game, which is quick and doesn't take as much out of a defense as a strong running game does. As the game went on Auburn kept getting more and more pressure on the Alabama quarterback, who was hit hard eight or nine times before he had to leave the game in the fourth quarter. You have got to give him credit for having the courage to stay out there because he took some vicious licks, hard and clean ones, as he was throwing the ball.
When Auburn finally scored in the second quarter and that put the Tigers 17 points down. I believe at that point those guys realized that offensively they could come back from that type of deficit because they had done it before. What you didn't know at that time was whether or not the defense was going to step up and stop Alabama, but they did that, too.
Then, when Auburn scored its second touchdown on the second play of the second half, it changed the whole complexion of the ball game. From that point out, in my opinion, the teams played with totally different mindsets. Auburn was playing to win and Alabama was playing not to get beat. One of those mindsets is a positive thing and the other is a negative. I know what that creates on the field and that is what happened.
The comeback win kept Auburn's national championship dream alive and now there is one more big one to play before the Tigers can go to Glendale. The game in Atlanta on Saturday will be as tough a test as the Tigers have faced all year long.
The Tigers have to get themselves ready to be the best they can be because you have got to anticipate South Carolina being ready to play its best football in the SEC Championship Game. Coach (Steve) Spurrier has been there before and he knows how to prepare for a big game.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is leading the Gamecocks to their first SEC Championship Game appearance.
I hope Auburn is ready to play its best football on Saturday. If the players do that they can live with the results and if they do play their best football I think Auburn will win the game. It won't be easy because I believe South Carolina is a much improved team compared to the group Auburn played earlier in the year, but I think Auburn is improved, too, particularly from a chemistry and confidence standpoint.
I think that is true, even on defense. The stats aren't very pretty, except for rush defense, but the Tigers have come up with big plays all year to win football games and that is a very significant thing that shouldn't be overlooked. They did it again against Alabama.
This is a game the Tigers ought to be excited about playing in on Saturday. In this conference you play to go to Atlanta for the championship game. If you go through the regular season undefeated you will have a chance to play for the national championship and that is where this team is right now.
Not a lot of people predicted this team would come together like it has and show those qualities that have made it successful–the character, the perseverance, the toughness and the leadership it has shown throughout the season.
Quarterback Cameron Newton leads the SEC in touchdown responsibility with 43 this season.
I don't think anybody anticipated Cameron Newton becoming the type of player and leader he has turned into this season. The Tigers have been blessed because in my opinion he is the best football player I have ever seen. He does more to help his team win during a game than anybody I have seen and he has provided incredible leadership for both the offense and defense.
The Auburn-Alabama game wasn't the only rivalry matchup over the weekend. In the SEC there was a really good game with Arkansas defeating LSU. The Razorbacks are playing about as well as anybody in the country right now. They have gotten themselves into a position to play in a BCS bowl game.
Coach Spurrier has done a tremendous job with the South Carolina team to get the Gamecocks to Atlanta and deserves a tremendous amount of credit.
The thing that puzzles you in the SEC is what is going on at Georgia and Florida, and to a smaller degree at Alabama. Those teams have as much talent as anybody in the conference, but for whatever reasons they didn't have the type of seasons expected.
Florida has five losses and Georgia has lost six games. I can tell you that isn't acceptable at Florida and Georgia. Coach (Urban) Myer and Coach (Mark) Richt have done outstanding jobs at their schools and they certainly have the ability to right the ship, but they have some hard decisions to make. They are going to have to change the way they are doing things right now. They have too much ability and too much tradition to be playing the way they have this year.
Nationally one of the big games was Nevada beating Boise State and it didn't look like a fluke to me even though the kicker at Boise State had the misses at the end of the game. Nevada can really run the football and a lot of folks would love to have that team's quarterback.
With Boise State's schedule one loss dropped the Broncos out of the BCS title mix. TCU, which is still undefeated, plays the same type of schedule as Boise State and I am sure is going on to a big bowl game with the possibility of playing in the championship game if Auburn loses to South Carolina. I don't anticipate Oregon losing to a struggling Oregon State team, even on the road. I know one thing for sure: I would rather be playing Oregon State than South Carolina this week.
In the Big 10 I think there are three pretty good teams in that league with Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State playing well. Two of them will go to BCS bowls I am sure–probably Ohio State and Wisconsin.
It has been a great year for college football around the country and it has been a special year so far for the Auburn Tigers. Now the challenge is finishing and that is something Auburn has done all year long so we will see what happen on Saturday in Atlanta.
Editor's Note: This part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns a week--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)