Jan. 1, 2007
DALLAS (AP) - Even though only Auburn managed to beat two teams playing in the BCS, Tommy Tuberville never thought he had a great team this season.
Imagine how good the No. 10 Tigers might be if they can find some consistent big playmakers.
Auburn took advantage of Nebraska mistakes, got two short touchdowns from Carl Stewart on his only touches of the game and beat the No. 22 Cornhuskers 17-14 in the Cotton Bowl on Monday despite only 178 total yards.
"That was typical Auburn, win and win ugly," Tuberville said. "That's how this team has done it all year. They scrap and claw."
Even without any superstar players, Auburn (11-2) made its seventh straight bowl game - and third in a row in January. Its 33-5 record the past three seasons is bettered only by Southern California and Texas, the last two national champions.
"These guys have overcome a lot of things. It's hard to imagine what we've done," said Tuberville, 71-29 after coaching his 100th Auburn game.
The Tigers can even wonder what might have been had they not lost to Georgia and Arkansas, the latter which instead won the SEC West. Auburn beat LSU and No. 2 Florida, which plays Ohio State next week in the Bowl Championship Series title game. The Gators' only loss was at Auburn in mid-October.
"We're grungy. Whatever it takes to win, that's what we do," defensive end Quentin Groves said. "The main thing people are going to say is they're a grungy bunch, but they still have 11 wins."
John Vaughn's 42-yard field goal midway through the third quarter accounted for the only points after halftime. And it was enough to make Auburn to fourth straight Southeastern Conference team to win the Cotton Bowl.
Nebraska (9-5), trying to return to national prominence under coach Bill Callahan, opened with a dominating 15-play, 80-yard drive capped by Zac Taylor's 13-yard TD pass to Nate Swift. But the Cornhuskers couldn't do much else right in their first January game in five years.
"It hurts," Taylor said. "But I don't think it sets our program back at all. I think we're headed in the right direction."
Nebraska didn't even make a bowl two years ago, when it ended Callahan's first season with a losing record that snapped Nebraska's NCAA-record streak of 35 straight bowl appearances. The Cornhuskers won the Big 12 North this season.
Nebraska still had a chance for a 10-win season with 5:24 left when Stewart Bradley sacked Brandon Cox, stripped the ball and recovered at the Auburn 42.
The Cornhuskers got to the 30, after converting a third down for the first time since their opening drive. But Taylor was under heavy pressure on fourth down when he threw the ball well over the head of his intended receiver and out of bounds.
Callahan said the Cornhuskers went for the first down because they were out of Jordan Congdon's range to try to kick a tying field goal. The sophomore kicker's career long is 41 yards.
"Everybody was on the same page, and that's a decision that we live with," Callahan said.
Auburn couldn't run the clock out because Kenny Irons was stopped a foot short on third-and-2. After initially being ruled a first down, officials reviewed the play and changed the spot.
The Tigers were forced to punt, and Taylor had one more chance - a long desperation pass that dropped incomplete in a group of players near the 25.
Nebraska's opening drive took more than half of the first quarter. Marlon Lucky touched the ball on 11 of the 15 plays, converting a third-and-19 from midfield when he caught a shuffle pass and got just enough yards for a first down.
"We were lucky to be in the game after the first half," Tuberville said. "I enjoyed watching our defense recover from stumbling out of the block."
The Cornhuskers had four third-down conversions on the opening drive, and only one more the rest of the game. They had only 63 total yards after halftime.
After the opening TD, Taylor's next pass was thrown behind Terrence Nunn. It bounced into the air and was intercepted by Karibi Dede, who rambled 52 yards to the 9. From there, Stewart caught a pass out of the backfield and scored untouched.
Then on fourth-and-1 from their own 29, the Cornhuskers tried a fake punt. They instead fumbled on an attempted reverse and lost 15 yards.
Courtney Taylor, who became Auburn's career receiving leader, had a leaping 12-yard catch to set up Stewart's 1-yard leap into the end zone. Stewart had only two TDs in the regular season, one of those in the opener.
"It's just what you call sloppy football," said Courtney Taylor, the game's offensive MVP with six catches for 70 yards to finish with 153 in his career. "We didn't play our best game, but at the same time we got the job done. That's what we've been doing all year long."
Lucky accounted for 155 of Nebraska's 230 total yards, with 25 carries for 88 yards and six catches for 67 yards. Taylor was 14-of-26 passing for 126 yards.
Brandon Jackson, the All-Big 12 running back who injured his right hand in the Big 12 championship game loss to Oklahoma, had only seven carries. That included a 20-yard TD run in the second quarter when he studder-stepped past cornerback Patrick Lee.