It is not uncommon for the “Iron Bowl” to have enormous implications.
That was the case on this day 50 years as Auburn and Alabama each met undefeated and ranked in the top five. With an SEC title on the line, the Crimson Tide left no doubt who was the best in the state or the conference with a 31-7 drubbing.
Setting the Stage
Auburn was a perfect 9-0 and ranked No. 5 in the country as it arrived at Legion Field on Nov. 27, 1971. The Tigers had just handled previously undefeated Georgia the week before in Athens and held national championship aspirations.
Alabama was 10-0 and ranked third as Paul “Bear” Bryant’s team made its way to Birmingham. The Crimson Tide had lost the last two in the series, but a fast start and strong finished ensured the skid would not hit three.
Alabama wasted little time seizing control of the contest. A muffed punt set up the first score as Terry Davis scored on a pair of touchdown runs to give the Crimson Tide an early 14-0 lead.
By halftime however, the Tigers had made it a game. Auburn had a stellar passing attack that included quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan and All-American wide receiver Terry Beasley. For the Tigers to find the end zone however, it took a trick play.
On a halfback pass, it was Harry Unger who found Beasley for a 31-yard touchdown. Alabama took a 14-7 lead into the locker room. After a scoreless third quarter, the Crimson Tide turned a close contest into a rout.
Kicker Bill Davis atoned for missing a short field goal earlier in the contest and knocked through a 41-yarder early in the fourth. From there, Alabama’s defense helped put the contest away.
Interceptions from Chuck Strickland and Jeff Rouzie would set up a pair of touchdown runs from Johnny Musso. Musso finished with 167 yards rushing in the victory.
Although Auburn managed to stick around until the final quarter, it was statistical domination in favor of the Crimson Tide. Alabama finished with 400 yards of offense, including 278 rushing, to just 178 total yards for the Tigers. The Crimson Tide also possessed the ball for more than 41 minutes.
The victory for Alabama would give it an outright SEC title and a shot at a national championship. Unfortunately for the Crimson Tide, they would run into the buzz saw that was No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The Cornhuskers routed Alabama for the national title, 38-6.
Auburn’s season also ended on a low note. The Tigers closed the season with a 40-22 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Although neither team would claim a national championship, Alabama’s rout in Birmingham gave it the outright SEC crown in what would be the first top-5 matchup between the schools. It came on this day a half-century ago.