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Auburn survives brawl, keeps nation’s longest winning streak intact

The defending national champion Auburn Tigers entered 2011 with plenty of question marks thanks to a tsunami-like wave of attrition this past offseason. Even more questions were raised when the Tigers opened the season at home against Utah State -- of the WAC Utah State’s -- and were forced to come from 10 behind with just over two minutes remaining, eking out a win when they really had no business doing so.

With a ranked SEC opponent next up on the slate? Even more questions as to just where this season may be headed. Saturday, AU had an answer for all of the doubters across the nation -- “Shut the hell up; we’re just fine, thank you very much.”

(Wipes sweat from brow, exhales very, very deeply)

The final score will show a 41-34 win over No. 16 Mississippi State as AU extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 17 games, but it was far more than just a second “W” and on ongoing streak for the Tigers. They’ve heard the doubters; they’ve had no choice but to. But, from the opening kickoff to the final gun, this was a different AU team from a week ago.

Playing down to the competition a week ago? Perhaps, but however it was spun, they were awful against the Aggies. Not this week, though; they played with a heart and a toughness and a sense of purpose that was embarrassingly absent a week ago.

Never was that more evident than on the final series of the game.

Clinging to a seven-point lead with under 20 seconds left and MSU with a first-and-goal at the one-yard line -- still say the Vick Ballard leap to get the Bulldogs down there was a touchdown -- the Tigers stopped Ballard for a one-yard loss on first down, then stopped quarterback Chris Relf inches -- maybe even less than an inch -- from the goal line as time expired.

That was the heart and toughness missing in the opener, a heavyweight brawl, as Gene Chizik described it afterwards, that showed the Tigers weren’t down for getting pushed around at home yet again.

What this huge conference win portends for the remainder of the season remains to be seen. It does show, though, that the Tigers may not be the SEC pushovers many, including ourselves, thought they’d be.