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Defense motivated by 2021 Iron Bowl performance


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Auburn defense 'absolutely' still motivated by 2021 Iron Bowl performance

ByNathan King
4-5 minutes


Jimmy Brumbaugh Discusses His Return to Auburn


AUBURN, Alabama — The die-hard football fans in Alabama say an Iron Bowl victory gives either the Tigers or Tide bragging rights for the next 364 days.

For Auburn, there’s no rivalry win to boast this time around. Alabama won 24-22 last season in four overtimes. But just over four months later, whenever the Tigers think about the fight and execution on defense that nearly led to an upset as a three-touchdown underdog, it still burns them with motivation to replicate that kind of performance in 2022.

“When we played in the Iron Bowl — how hard our guys played, how hard they fought, all the things they did right,” Bryan Harsin said this spring, “it didn't go our way, but that right there — we were very proud of how the team came out and competed.”

“We've got to take what we learned from that and apply it to what we're doing moving forward.”

Auburn, playing as the largest underdog in the series since it was -34 before a 49-0 loss in 2012, led by 10 points entering the fourth quarter and held then-No. 3 Alabama without a touchdown for 59:36 of game time — before eventual Heisman winner Bryce Young found Ja'Corey Brooks for a 28-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10-10.

Through three quarters, Alabama had 134 yards of offense, including -4 rushing yards, and Young had been sacked six times — the most by either team in the Iron Bowl since the Tigers sacked Brodie Croyle 11 times.

A week removed from dropping a program-record 559 yards on Arkansas, Young completed only 51% of his passes for the game, and threw only his fourth interception of the regular season.

Alabama’s 4.4 yards per play was its worst clip of the season — even lower than its 33-18 loss to Georgia in the national title game (4.7).

A second-half ankle injury to backup quarterback T.J. Finley further hampered Auburn’s chances with its already struggling offense (141 total yards in regulation). The teams dueled through three overtimes before Auburn’s 2-point try in the fourth OT period was unsuccessful, and the Crimson Tide won on a completion to John Metchie.

But for Auburn returning players on defense, the quadruple-overtime thriller still sticks in their minds as a highlight of the season — despite the loss.

“I just loved being in the atmosphere,” defensive tackle Marcus Harris said. “You’ve got to be on your tip-top game. That was my favorite moment of the season.”

Auburn lost four starters from that defense, all of whom were seniors, plus coordinator Derek Mason. According to ESPN SP+, the Tigers bring back 65% of their returning production on defense, including defensive linemen Harris, Colby Wooden and Derick Hall, who combined for five sacks in the game.

Auburn secondary coach Zac Etheridge, who played in three Iron Bowls as a Tiger, including the 2010 comeback in Tuscaloosa, understands why his players had so much intensity that night: “It doesn’t take much to get excited for that one,” he joked.

It’s easier said than done, but Auburn’s defensive coaches can harken back to that performance as a motivator for what the group can look like when it clicks on every level and executes. The more difficult task is to harness comparable execution and fire against, say, Missouri, or Mississippi State.

“Oh, absolutely,” Etheridge said when asked if he and the coaches have talked about the Iron Bowl performance with players this spring. “Any time you get a chance to show what the standard is on tape and how we can be great. The beauty about the Iron Bowl — that should be the style and how we play in every game, not just that game. So, that’s the standard that they showed that they’re able to do. So you try to make sure you emphasize that, so guys know you never get too high, you never get too low, and you’re always staying in the middle.

“But those guys are able to understand what the standard is and obviously come back and just approach every game, and not just the Iron Bowl.”

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