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November 30, 2013

TALKIN' TIDE: Iron Bowl lost far before final play

AUBURN — Alabama put its national title hopes on the leg of a freshman kicker — and he nearly delivered.

Instead, Adam Griffith's last-second, 56-yard attempt came up just short, falling into the arms of an alert Chris Davis, who took off down the left sideline and ran 109 yards into the far-reaching depths of Iron Bowl lore.

For Auburn, it was the most miraculous miracle in a dream season full of them.

For the Tide, it almost assuredly marked the gut-wrenching end to a three-peat that appeared guaranteed to so many just months, weeks, days, hours and even minutes before the unthinkable changed everything.

And really, was the outcome decided on the final play for the nation's top team? Technically, yes. Fundamentally, not at all.

Aside from a late 99-yard prayer from AJ McCarron to Amari Cooper, Alabama squandered just about every meaningful opportunity it could count. There were dropped touchdown passes, errant throws, third- and fourth-and-short situations deep in Tiger territory that couldn't be converted, one blocked field goal and three other misses, not to mention the awareness it lacked on the last.

And that's just the short list.

Simply put, Alabama did not play Alabama football for a full 60 minutes Saturday night — and it showed.

So where do Nick Saban and Co. go from here? It's hard to say when an upset somehow seemed out of the question despite the fact Auburn had already proven it was back in the national spotlight by rising to No. 4 in the BCS Standings and Associated Press poll.

A trip to Pasadena still isn't entirely out of the question. But at this late juncture in the college football season, it would likely take a miracle akin to the one that dashed the Tide's SEC championship dreams to make it happen.

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