Alabama took a 55-44 win over Auburn in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night, keeping alive Crimson Tide hopes for the national championship. Bama, ranked number one in the nation by the College Football Playoff selection committee, improved to 11-1 on the season.
Bama had won the SEC Western Division championship before kickoff when Mississippi State lost to Ole Miss, 31-17. Alabama, which finished SEC competition with a 7-1 mark, will play in the SEC Championship Game next Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta against Missouri.
Auburn fell to 8-4 overall and 4-4 in SEC games.
Although some suggested this was a revenge game for Bama Coach Nick Saban and his team after Auburn had defeated the undefeated and number one ranked Tide in Auburn last year, it was more relief than revenge that the Crimson Tide should have been feeling. That was 99 points scored by the two teams.
Alabama surrendered 630 yards on 90 plays to Auburn. Included in the Tigers’ total was 456 yards of passing yardage. Bama had only 61 offensive snaps, but managed 539 yards of total offense.
So it was entertaining. And with television commercials after every score, it was long – three minutes short of four hours from kickoff to kneeldown.
After falling behind by 33-21 early in the thid quarter, in great part because of giving up three pass interceptions, Alabama scored five touchdowns interrupted only by a lone Auburn field goal, to put the game away before giving up a very late consolation TD to the visitors.
Quarterback Blake Sims passed for four touchdowns (three to Amari Cooper( and ran for one and T.J. Yeldon rushed for two touchdowns and surely the Alabama scouting report included something like, “Auburn couldn’t tackle McNair.”
Unfortunately, it looked for much of the game as though Bama’s defense had been schooled by the same professor. And so it may be hard to believe, but three second half defensive plays by Alabama safety Nick Perry may have been as important to victory as Sims to Cooper.
It probably wasn’t the plan, but the result was that Saban and Bama were sucked into the same type game Auburn wants to play, and managed to do it well enough to win.
Turnovers played a part in the game from the start. Literally.
On the first play of the game, Marshall threw a pass that was ruled a backwards pass, and when the receiver mishandled it the ball was a fumble, recovered by Reggie Ragland for Bama at the Tigers 35. Five plays later Yeldon was in from eight yards out. Gunnar Raborn was the surprise extra point kicker – until one was blocked in the third quarter, when Adam Griffith returned to duty from sick call.
Auburn answered with the first of five Daniel Carlson field goals, and it was 7-3.
Alabama had an 80-yard drive (helped by two 15-yard penalties against Auburn and a fine 20-yard reception by tight end O.J. Howard), ending with the first Sims-Cooper connection, a 17-yard fade pattern with Cooper making an excellent catch. It was 14-3.
Auburn answered with a pair of field goals, the first after a quick drive to a fourth-and-goal at the Bama seven. The second came after a rare punt, a 70-yarder by JK Scott. The Tigers drove inside the Tide 10, but on third-and-one Bama’s Ragland and Ryan Anderson caught AU tailback Cameron Artis-Payne for a loss, forcing another three-point kick. It was Alabama 14, Auburn 9.
Late in the first half, Alabama seemed to have regained momentum. After losing the lead – at one time 14-3 – and trailing 16-14, Bama put together a nice drive that would seem to have given the Tide the lead for the first half with the advantage of getting the ball to start the second half.
After Auburn’s only [unt of the first half was returned 29 yards by Christion Jones to the Bama 42, Sims made passes to backs in space – first fullback Jalston Fowler for 15 yards, then to T.J. Yeldon for 13. Sims then had to scramble, but saved the play with a pass to Jones at the 9 with 3:02 remaining until intermission.
Yeldon ran for four yards, a pass was incomplete, and then Sims connected with Amari Cooper at the 1. With just under 1:30 remaining in the half, Bama elected to go for it and Yeldon burst through the right side for the touchdown. With Gunnar Raborn’s extra point kick, with 1:23 to playBama had retaken the lead at 21-16.
But Auburn wasn’t through. After the kickoff into the end zone and a run that gained seven, Nick Marshall through deep for Sammie Coates, who was behind Eddie Jackson in man coverage, for a 68-yard touchdown with :54 seconds left in the half. Daniel Carlson gave the Tigers a 23-21 lead.
But Alabama wasn’t through with its foibles.
After the kickoff and a short pass, Sims went downfield and was intercepted by Johnathan Ford at the Auburn 45, and returned to the Alabama 41. On something of a trick play – Marshall was split out, but got the pitch and passed downfield to Coates for 40 yards (between safeties Landon Collins and Nick Perry) at the one. Fortunately, the Tide was able to hold the Tigers to only a field goal and trailed by just 26-21 at the half.
Even though the 26 points was the most given up in a game this year by Alabama, it could have been much, much worse.
And it would get worse.
Two plays after taking the second half kickoff, Sims had another pass intercepted, leading to a seven-play, 39-yard drive that ended with a TD pass to Quan Bray. Auburn had scored 17 consecutive points over a matter of four minutes of playing time and led 33-21.
At that point there may have been a temptation for Saban to yell, “Paging Mr. Coker. Mr. Jake Coker.” But Bama’s back-up quarterback stayed on the sideline and Sims would justify the decision.
Alabama drove to midfield, but then faced fourth-and-three at the Auburn 42. It was that kind of night. Bama went for it and Sims’ pass to DeAndrew White got the three to Auburn’s 39. The Tide had a new set of downs, but needed only the first one, Sims connecting with Cooper on a post route for the TD. The extra point, however, was blocked, and it was Auburn 33, Alabama 27.
Auburn got a break on its next drive when Marshall’s pass to Bray on a third-and-two was ruled – seemingly incorrectly – a completion rather than a Bradley Sylve interception. (It was ruled dual possession, which goes to the man whose foot first touches turf in bounds, and that was Sylve.) That led to another AU field goal and a 36-27 lead.
Sims then went into Marshall mode. After a kickoff into the end zone that had Alabama starting at its 25, Sims got it all with one throw to streaking Cooper, a one-play, 10-second drive. Griffith kicked the Tide to within two points, 36-34, with 3:20 left in the third quarter.
Senior Tide safety Nick Perry turned in a key play when he intercepted Marshall at the Alabama 46 and ran it back to the Auburn 23. On the second play of the fourth quarter, facing second-and-goal at the 11, Sims had to scramble and scrambled into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Ahead by four points, Alabama went for and made a two-point conversion, Sims-to-White, and a 42-36 lead.
After an Auburn punt, the Tide started at its 28 and went on a drive that would provide what would be the winning points. A pass to Cooper for eight, followed by a 25-yard Yeldon run and a Sims-to-Yeldon pass for 15 set the Tide up at Auburn’s 25. A 13-yard Yeldon run to what appeared to be a first down inside the five was wiped out by a holding penalty. But Sims completed a pass to White, got an eight-yard run from Jalston Fowler for a first-and-goal at the AU 8, and then hit White on a six-yard touchdown pass. A try for two failed, but it was Alabama 48, Alabama 36.
Auburn drove to the Tide 14. On third down, a Marshall pass to Coates was broken up by Perry. On fourth-and-eight, Marshall completed a pass, but a fine Perry tackle held it to seven yards.
Alabama took over at its eight and worked its way out of the hold when Sims went up the middle on a quarterback keeper for 10 yards to the 26. Derrick Henry then took over for Yeldon, just for a few plays. The first of those was a 49-yard run to the Auburn 25. The third was a 25-yard run, untouched around left end, for the touchdown with only 3:46 to play.
Auburn used 3:26 of that time (the Mississippi State formula) to get a consolation touchdown and two-point conversion.
It was 55-44 when Sims took a knee.