In the end, it wasn't exactly like last year's Iron Bowl. But it was pretty close.
Once again, the national championship contender looked flat as it began the last regular-season game of its BCS bid in the other team's stadium. It looked confused on offense and unable to stop anything on defense. Once again, it finally flipped the switch to "on" and finally took a lead in the fourth quarter.
Of course, there were some differences between this year's game and last year's. Alabama never dug itself a hole as deep as the 24-0 deficit that Auburn faced, did not wait as long as the Tigers did this year to begin its rally, and had tied things by halftime.
But both games meant the same thing: Down by more than one score, with the Heisman contender off his game, the championship contender found enough to keep its season alive. Cameron Newton was held to 39 rushing yards on 22 carries, his lowest average of the season save the the blowout win against Louisiana-Monroe, when his only rush was a sack for minus-11 yards. The Tide was one of three teams this season against whom Newton did not ring up at least 271 total yards -- again, one of the others was Lousiana-Monroe. All this in a game that Auburn won. The other players and Newton's passing in the second half picked up just enough slack to claim a victory in game that saw the Tigers outgained by 122 yards.
To some extent, the final score will mask a career day for the sometimes-beleaguered senior Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who only led the team to its own national title last year. McElroy was 27-of-37 for a career-high 377 yards and two touchdowns, though it should be noted that he went 19-of-23 for 335 yards in the first half and 8-of-14 for 42 yards in the second. Then again, his second half was shortened by a concussion late in the game. Julio Jones had 199 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches, easily the second-best game of his career. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson continued a curious cold streak that has featured few big games since the calendar turned to October.
That could be the most troublesome part of this game, and this season, for Alabama. McElroy will likely be replaced by a so-far erratic A.J. McCarron next year, and Julio Jones is almost certain to be earning millions of dollars playing on Sunday. If the offense can't rely on Ingram and Richardson, then where exactly are the points going to come from?
Still, the most important thing about the game is that Auburn's BCS train keeps rolling on. It's next stop is in Atlanta, where the Tigers will face South Carolina for the SEC Championship, and the right to play in Glendale. The Gamecocks will be looking to do what the Tide could not, but they now have another warning after losing their own fourth-quarter advantage that no lead is safe against Auburn.