Stretching Alabama's defense became easier two plays into the second half when Newton lofted a 70-yard touchdown pass into the arms of a streaking Terrell Zachery. Suddenly Auburn trailed 24—14, just a 10-point deficit, which, for the 2010 Tigers, constitutes a comfort zone.
They had trailed Clemson by 17, South Carolina by 13, Georgia by 14, going on to win all those games. Double-digit deficits aren't a big deal, says strong safety Zac Etheridge, "because we know our offense can put up 24 points in a quarter, no problem."
With the Tigers' defense holding Ingram & Co. to three points and 67 total yards after the intermission, Newton engineered touchdown drives on three of Auburn's first four second-half possessions. The game-winning score was a fiendish, against-the-grain throwback to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, whose seven-yard touchdown catch capped the biggest comeback not just in Iron Bowl history but in school history—and Auburn has only been playing football since 1892.
Alabama fans searching for early indications of the Tide's eventual undoing will point to one play in particular. Ingram was trucking down the right sideline early in the second quarter, threatening to put the Tide ahead 28—0, when he was overtaken by a hustling Antoine Carter, a senior defensive end who punched the ball out of Ingram's arms. The football shot forward almost 30 yards, rolling out of the end zone for a touchback.
This year's Auburn team has gone out of its way to embrace its fans. The Tigers do it before pregame warmups, mingling and slapping hands with students in the end zone at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and again before the fourth quarter. Rather than hold four fingers in the air as many teams do, they sprint toward the end zone, pointing to their fans.
Newton is a primary contributor to, and beneficiary of, those stout bonds between the players and their fans. That connection has formed a kind of protective force field against the allegations engulfing him and the program. Throughout the drama, says Malzahn, Newton "hasn't changed one bit about how he goes about practice, how he goes about preparing."
Nor has the firestorm affected the team. It "just makes us stronger, more motivated," Etheridge says. "We all got each other's backs. We play for the Auburn family."