“We never gave up when we were down,” Alabama quarterback Blake Sims said. “Losing was never on our mind. We wanted to win this game. I made some mistakes. I got down on myself, but we’ve got great players and coaches who helped me get back up. I gave my feet and hands to God, and asked him to lead me and my teammates the right way. The receivers got open. The offensive line did a great job blocking.
“I didn’t have a very good first half. We came in at halftime, and the team said, ‘It’s OK, Blake. Keep playing. We are behind you 100 per cent.’ They rallied behind me.”
Sims said the Tide’s rally was big for team confidence. “(The comeback) lets us know that when we’re down, we can still play on. The game’s not over until the clock says all zeroes. I’ve got great guys around me and a great position coach that tell me what I did wrong. That keeps me on my P’s and Q’s.”
Sims, who completed 20-of-27 passes and threw four touchdown passes to fuel the rally, said being a fifth-year senior gave him the perspective he needed to overcome his rough start. “Patience is a key,” he said. “You learn that from great guys who played before you, like A.J. McCarron and Greg McElroy.”
Sims credited his offensive coordinator for the success he had on two long touchdown passes to Amari Cooper. “That was great play-calling by Coach (Lane) Kiffin,” Sims said. “It changed the momentum of the game. I just did what I had to do to get the ball to the playmakers, and we won the game.”
Sims wouldn’t use the “revenge” word to describe the feeling of winning after last year’s heart-breaking loss on The Plains. “(This win) was for our fans, for our seniors and for our coaches,” he said.
Senior offensive tackle Austin Shepherd described the feeling of victory over his arch-rivals by using a different ‘r’ word: “It wasn’t revenge. It was more like a reckoning. Everyone’s over last year. That was a year ago. We want to see how far this team can go.”
Shepherd said the offense never lost confidence in Sims, despite his shaky start. “Blake’s a veteran. He’s been here five years, just like me. He knows when to let (bad) things go.”
Shepherd said Coach Nick Saban had some harsh words for the team at the half, when it trailed 26-21. “It hurts when (Saban) tells us we’re not playing ‘Bama Ball,’ but it hurts in a good way,” he grinned. “It makes us want to play better and harder.”
Cooper had a Heisman-invte worthy night, with a game-high 13 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns. He said he saw more single coverage than he expected. “They played a lot of man. That helped us, especially on the first two touchdowns (of 17 and 39 yards). On the last one (of 75 yards), they were in a zone.”
Cooper said the team had a feeling Sims would bounce back from his tough beginning, because “we’re always right behind him. When (Sims) messes up, we tell him ‘we’re behind you. Let’s go. Let’s play the next play. Like Sims, Cooper credited his offensive coordinator for putting him in positon to make big plays against the Tigers. “Coach Lane Kiffin has seen me do it a lot of times against man to man. I give a lot of credit to Coach Kiffin. He puts the ball in the hands of his playmakers.”
As to the bruised knee he suffered in the Western Carolina game that limited him in practice this week, Cooper said, “It’s OK. I kept telling myself that if I didn’t quit, the Lord would bless me. That goes back to what (team motivational speaker) Dr. (Kevin) Elko told us this past summer.”
Defensively, the Tide struggled in the highest scoring Iron Bowl on record, giving up 630 yards and 28 first downs to Gus Malzahn’s hurry up, no-huddle offense. The Tide did a bit better in the second half, giving up 18 points as compared to 26 in the first stanza. “We knew that, as the dominant defense that we are, that we had to pull it together and focus on our keys and concepts,” said junior safety Landon Collins, who made nine tackles and broke up a Nick Marshall pass. “We knew we had to do what we have always done. We prepared for this game consistently, and we just stuck to what we had to do.
“We had players come in and make big plays, and we did a fantastic job at the end.” (Collins was referring to Auburn’s next-to-last drive when the Tide stopped Auburn on fourth down at its own 14 with 6:55 left in the game.)
Collins called the comeback win over the Tide’s cross-state rivals “fantastic. It shows we know how to finish games. We were fired up to start the game, but we came out in the second half more focused.”
The game’s leading tackler, senior linebacker Trey DePriest (14 stops) said he had a feeling his team would turn things around in time to come back and win his final Iron Bowl. “Every time we got down, we told each other not to hang their heads. We have chemistry. We don’t lose our focus, and we never give up.
“At half time, we made the adjustments. They were hurting us in the first half with some plays we weren’t ready for, but we made the adjustments.”
Cooper said the team already had confidence in itself, but a comeback like Saturday’s is special. “It makes us believe that we can win the (national) championship,” he said. “This game was won through all the (strength and conditioning) work we had during the off-season. “