Originally created 11/28/01

Iron Bowl blowout still befuddles Tigers

AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn tight end Lorenzo Diamond has noticed a difference in his classmates and even the professors since the loss to Alabama.

"After the Arkansas game, we got a few pats on the back and people saying, 'Keep your head up,"' Diamond said Tuesday. "But after this one we really didn't get any of that. The students don't look at you the same. The professors might not give you that 'A."'

The 25th-ranked Tigers (7-3, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) know they flunked their latest big test miserably in a 31-7 loss to Alabama.

They have a chance to get back in the fans' good graces against No. 22 LSU (7-3, 4-3) on Saturday night in a game originally scheduled for Sept. 15.

The winner represents the Western Division in the SEC championship game on Dec. 8.

Auburn looked like anything but a champion in that Iron Bowl defeat, getting outgained 549 to 272 yards and physically manhandled on both sides of the ball. The Tigers had an extra week to digest the loss along with their Thanksgiving turkey.

"It was very hard, because everybody's coming up to you and saying, 'What happened, what happened?"' defensive tackle Spencer Johnson said. "I think it was real good that coach gave us some time off to go home and let it soak in and put it behind us.

"We're playing to win the SEC West and just to redeem ourselves to the world and ourselves. It was a devastating loss to us, but we've got to put it behind us. It's a speed bump, but we have to keep rolling on."

The loss ended Auburn's 12-game home winning streak. Also it crushed the Tigers' feeling of invincibility at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"Losing at home was probably the hardest," Diamond said. "We had a lot of confidence that nobody could beat us at home.

"Florida couldn't do it. Mississippi State couldn't do it. A lot of other teams couldn't beat us at home. It makes us want to go over there to Baton Rouge and beat them by 40."

That's something the Tigers haven't done to anybody. They haven't won a game by double digits since a 30-0 win over Ball State to open the season.

By contrast, Auburn's losses have come by 17, 25 and 24 points. That explains why opponents have actually outscored the Tigers by eight points this season.

"The thing that we want to prove to ourselves is we're a lot better than we've shown in previous weeks," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "Young teams usually don't play in-between. They're either good or bad. We've been good at times and we've been bad at times."

But they haven't been much worse than they were against Alabama, a heated rivalry that's supposed to bring out the best in players.

The Tigers gave up 328 yards on the ground and managed just 41, getting virtually nothing accomplished after tailback Carnell Williams went down with a broken shoulder in the first quarter.

How unsettled is the Auburn offense? So much so that Tuberville was still trying to pick starters at quarterback and tailback on Tuesday, nearly three months into the season.

As inconsistent as the offense has been, Auburn's fortunes this season have directly correlated to the success in stopping the run. Mississippi, Florida and Georgia have combined for 87 yards on the ground in the Tigers' three biggest wins. The Gators were held to minus 36.

In the Tigers' losses, they have given up an average 233 rushing yards. The inconsistent performances mystify Johnson.

"In certain situations, we perform and in certain situations we don't," Johnson said. "I don't know if we take things lightly.

"I know this week we all know what's at stake and hopefully we'll go out and play up to that level."


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