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Tide, Tigers Expect To Add To Memories On Saturday

November 22, 1996

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ The debate has lingered since last year’s Alabama-Auburn game, when referees ruled that Crimson Tide receiver Curtis Brown didn’t control the ball on a last-second pass into the Auburn end zone.

Replays and pictures of the play have proved inconclusive.

If it had been ruled a catch, Alabama would have won and enjoyed a much more comfortable offseason. Instead, it was Tigers 31, Tide 27 _ one of the most exciting games in the history of the series and the second win in three years for Auburn.

``It’s an unbelievable game,″ Auburn sophomore safety Martavius Houston said of the annual matchup between the rivals. ``I’d heard all the talk, but it’s really an amazing game. My whole football career, that’s the most exciting game I’ve ever been in. I’m looking forward to it this year.″

So are the thousands of people who began camping out near Legion Field early in the week. Scalpers are expected to get $200 or more for tickets, and most of the state will come to a screeching halt Saturday, when No. 15 Alabama (8-2, 5-2 SEC) plays unranked Auburn (7-3, 4-3).

The coaches have spent much of the week trying to keep their players relaxed as they go into a game that always leaves a lasting imprint on Auburn and Alabama fans statewide.

``I enjoy the big games and I enjoy the preparation for games such as this,″ Alabama coach Gene Stallings said. ``What I don’t really like is for the players to be under a lot of pressure. And sometimes when I’m under a little pressure, I have a tendency to put the players under a little pressure.″

Both teams are coming into the game off a loss _ the first time that’s happened since 1982. That might add to the pressure because the losses left the SEC West up for grabs.

Alabama still controls its own destiny. A win puts the Tide in the SEC title game for the fourth time in five years. Auburn needs a win plus an LSU loss at Arkansas on Nov. 29 to make its first title game.

The Tigers will be trying to solve defensive problems that stem from injuries and youth. Auburn ranks ninth in the conference in total defense, 10th in third-down conversions allowed and last in sacks.

Only two upperclassmen are expected to start on defense. The starting line will likely consist of one freshman (Ezell Powell) who was supposed to be redshirted this season, another (Leonardo Carson) who wasn’t expected to play much, and a sophomore (Jimmy Brumbaugh) who strained his knee in a 56-49 loss to Georgia last week.

Surely, Auburn would love to put pressure on Alabama’s shaky quarterback, Freddie Kitchens, but coach Terry Bowden doubts it’s possible.

``We’re last in the conference in sacks due to the personnel and talent we have right now,″ Bowden said. ``If we think blitzing will help, we’ll do it. But just because someone else may have had success with it doesn’t mean it will help us.″

Alabama’s offense will likely revolve around tailbacks Dennis Riddle and Shaun Alexander, who have combined for 584 yards in the last two games. Kitchens is completing just over 50 percent of his passes and has eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions this year. He was pulled from last week’s loss to Mississippi State, and Stallings wasn’t guaranteeing he would be the starter.

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