Auburn's stars rescued the Tigers' national championship hopes with a stellar second half.
Jason Campbell passed for 224 yards and Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams ran for second-half touchdowns, leading (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today, No. 2 AP) Auburn to a 21-13 victory over Alabama on Saturday.
Now the question is will an impressive final 30 minutes be enough to cancel out a 6-0 halftime deficit and lackluster start when this game is figured into the Bowl Championship Series standings? The Tigers (11-0, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) were third in the BCS behind second-place Oklahoma, which beat Baylor 35-0, and Southern California.
Even the nation's top scoring defense ran into a little trouble late. Alabama (6-5, 3-5) drove 84 yards on 11 plays in the final minutes, scoring on Spencer Pennington's 18-yard pass to D.J. Hall with 1:26 left.
Courtney Taylor recovered the onside kick for the Tigers, who ran out the clock and left their archrivals stadium with a hard-fought, if not aesthetically pleasing, victory.
They completed their first perfect regular season since 1993, when the team was on probation. Auburn will get one more chance to make an impression with poll voters and computer programmers against Tennessee in the SEC championship game on Dec. 4, but might need a loss from Oklahoma or USC to make the Orange Bowl.
The defense kept Auburn from serious trouble in the first half and held the league's No. 1 running team to 50 yards on 31 carries. Kenneth Darby, the SEC's second-leading rusher, had just 19 yards on 14 carries.
Alabama has been outscored 104-20 in five Iron Bowls in Tuscaloosa and has lost three straight meetings for the first time since Auburn won four in a row from 1986-89.
The Tigers finally looked like the team that has been dominating SEC teams most of the season in the second half.
Campbell hit Devin Aromashodu for a 51-yard pass down the left sidelines and Williams bounced outside for a 5-yard touchdown to cap a six-play, 80-yard drive to open the half.
Campbell hit Taylor for a 32-yard touchdown pass on third-and-17 on Auburn's next series to make it 14-6. The defense essentially held Alabama to two three-and-out possessions with a holding penalty on the punt giving the Tide a first down.
Brown added a 2-yard TD plunge early in the fourth quarter.
Campbell was 8-of-9 for 143 yards in the third after passing for just 61 yards and an interception before the half.
The Heisman Trophy contender finished up 18-of-24 against the nation's top pass defense and threw only two passes in the fourth quarter with the Tigers protecting their lead.
Brown and Williams combined for just 96 rushing yards.
Fast starters all season, the Tigers came out looking out-of-sync, losing 4 yards on their first three series. Campbell had to burn timeouts on successive plays on the second series and it didn't get much better.
Alabama, however, failed to reach the end zone on back-to-back possessions after having first-and-goals from the 5, with the teams trading interceptions and Brian Bostick hitting a 22-yard field goal.
Even Auburn's one good drive of the half ended badly. The Tigers marched 79 yards only to watch John Vaughn's 21-yard field goal bounce off the left upright and back into the end zone as time expired.
That sent the fist-pumping Tide players sprinting to their locker room while a stunned Auburn team jogged into the opposite tunnel, its title hopes looking shaky at best.