Not Enough Defense For An Iron Bowl Victory

The Auburn Tigers couldn't hold on to a second half lead as they lost 55-44 to Alabama in a game that featured 1,169 yards of total offense.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.--Despite Auburn’s offense wreaking havoc on the SEC’s top-ranked defense, the Tigers came up short of upsetting No. 1 ranked Alabama on Saturday night despite a record-setting performance from quarterback Nick Marshall as the Tide rallied for a football 55-44 victory.

The senior passed for 456 yards, 40 more than the old record set by Ben Leard vs. Georgia in 1999.

Auburn’s 640 yards of total offense was also a school record for the Iron Bowl, topping the mark set of 541 by 1969 Tigers in a 49-26 victory in Birmingham.

Staked to a 12-point lead in the third quarter, Auburn’s defense wasn’t up to challenge as the Tide scored 34 second half points, including three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to improve to 11-1 overall and 7-1 in the SEC.

Auburn ended the regular season 8-4 overall with a 4-4 league mark and is now awaiting word on its bowl destination.

“I think the name of the game, really, was we got in the red zone and we had to kick field goals,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “I believe we kicked five of them--we didn’t score touchdowns. We had enough yards to score a whole bunch of points.

While the stalls in the red zone were big, 44 points normally wins an Iron Bowl with room to spare, but Auburn’s defense continued its late season collapse as the Tigers allowed Alabama to rack up 539 yards, including 312 through the air.

Tide receiver Amari Cooper was the star of the night for the home team with 13 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns.

“He is one of the better players in college football and he showed that,” Malzahn said of Cooper.

Asked about his team's defense, Malzahn said, “Obviously, we are not very happy about the way we played tonight. They do have a very good offense. I think it kind of goes back to this: regardless of what happened we didn’t get touchdowns in the red zone and if we would have we would have scored a whole bunch of points, and we didn’t get it done. You have to give their defense credit. That is what is sticking out to me right now.”

Asked if it is time to make changes on defense, “I am not going there right now. We are disappointed we got beat and that is about it.”

Senior cornerback Jonathon Mincy had praise for Cooper, noting the Tide junior got the best of Auburn’s defense, including a long pass play in which he got behind Mincy for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

Mincy didn’t want to blame the coaches for the defensive failures. “They gave us a great scheme,” he said. “We just didn’t go out there and make plays.”

Marshall hit 27-43 passes for 456 yards with three going for touchdowns and one interception. “I knew it was going to be a dogfight coming into this game,” the senior quarterback said.

Marshall noted he wasn’t surprised the Tigers had success moving the ball in the air. “I was watching film on it (Alabama’s defense) and they were leaving a couple of guys one-on-one and we took advantage of it.”

Sammie Coates caught five passes for 206 yards vs. the Tide with two touchdowns. Duke Williams, back from an injury, made seven catches for 121 yards while Quan Bray added four catches for 74 yards.

Sammie Coates makes a touchdown catch.

“I gave my guys chances to make plays on the ball and they made them for us tonight,” pointed out Marshall, who said that Auburn having to kick five short field goals was “frustrating” on Saturday “because we are one of the top red zone teams in the country.”

Tide coach Nick Saban said he liked the mental toughness his team showed. “I’m really, really proud of our team and proud of the character they showed in the second half.”

Auburn repeated its start at Mississippi State and at home vs. Texas A&M with a turnover on its first offensive play. This one was a swing pass lateral to Roc Thomas that the freshman running back couldn’t handle that was recovered at the Auburn 35-yard line.

It took the Tide just five plays to score as T.J. Yeldon ran into the end zone on a sweep at left end to make the score 7-0.

Auburn responded with a scoring drive of its own, but came away with just three points as Daniel Carlson made a 20-yard field goal. That was foreshadowing of what was to come.

With the help of a late hit call on Jermaine Whitehead and a facemask penalty on Kris Frost, the Tide drove 80 yards on five plays to stretch the lead to 14-3. Cooper scored on a 17-yard pass from Blake Sims with 6:17 left in the first quarter.

The Tigers again responded with a long drive, but again had to settle for a field goal as Carlson capped an 11-play drive with a 24-yard field goal.

The second quarter was even more action packed as the Tigers outscored the Tide 20-7 in the period.

Auburn narrowed the gap to 14-9 with a 14-play drive that ended with another 24-yard field goal by Carlson.

An interception by Whitehead put the Tigers in business at the Alabama 32 to set up Auburn’s first touchdown.

Two plays after the turnover Coates caught a perfectly thrown 32-yard deep sideline route as Marshall hit the junior receiver in stride to put the Tigers up 16-14.

After the teams exchanged punts the Tide regained the lead on a fourth and goal run from the one with 1:23 left in the half.

However, the Tigers still had plenty of time to score more points. The first seven came on a 68-yard bomb to Coates, who again got open down the right sideline on a perfectly thrown pass by Marshall.

That put the Tigers up 23-21 with 54 seconds left in the half. Auburn got the ball back 17 seconds later when Johnathan Ford got an interception.

Johnathan “Rudy” Ford got one of Auburn’s three interceptions.

On the next play Coates caught a 40-yard pass from Marshall at the one-yard line. However, Artis-Payne was stopped for a two-yard loss and with four seconds left the Tigers settled for a field goal to make the score 26-21 at halftime.

Malzahn said after the game the Tigers were trying to set up their blocking assignments and he wished they had used their one remaining timeout earlier.

First Half Numbers: The Tigers out-gained the Tide 383-178 with 255 yards coming through the air as Marshall completed 11-18 passes and Coates four passes for 153 yards with Williams making three catches for 70 yards.

Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for 58 yards on 17 carries while Marshall ran for 48 yards on eight carries.

Sims hit 10-14 passes for 129 yards with one TD and two interceptions for the Tide. Alabama netted 49 yards on 44 carries with Yeldon gaining 59 yards on eight carries.

The second half got off to a good start for the Tigers as Jonathan Jones intercepted Sims on the second play of the period giving the Tigers possession at the Alabama 39.

Seven plays later on a third down at the five-yard line Quan Bray caught a pass in the end zone on a slant route to put the Tigers up 33-21 with 11:02 on the clock.

Alabama responded with the help of a fourth down and three conversion that was ruled a first down by referee Hubert Owens and his officiating crew without bothering to measure on a play that was questionable if it gained first down yardage. On the next play Sims threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Cooper, who beat Ford on a pass over the middle.

The Tigers took the kickoff and moved 66 yards on 10 plays before Carlson kicked a 33-yard field goal to make the score 36-27 with 3:30 left in the third quarter.

It took just 14 seconds for the Tide to cut the lead to 36-34 when Sims threw a perfect 75-yard bomb to Cooper, who got behind Mincy for a touchdown.

The Tide regained the lead early in the fourth quarter and never surrendered it after cashing in an interception for touchdown. Sims ran in on a scramble play from 11 yards out to complete a drive that covered 31 yards on five plays following an interception.

Alabama’s defense came up with a three-and-out and then its offense moved the football 72 yards on 10 plays to pull ahead 48-36 on a six-yard pass to DeAndrew White. A run by Sims for the two-point try came up short leaving the Tide up 48-36 with 8:05 left.

On the next play from scrimmage, Marshall hooked up with Coates for a 53-yard pass to the Tide 16, but the Tigers turned the ball over on downs when Coates and Williams couldn’t hang on to passes from Marshall and a fourth down pass to Marcus Davis came up a yard short of the first down marker.

Alabama then drove 92 yards on six plays for an insurance touchdown. Auburn added another score with 20 seconds left when Corey Grant ran in from five yards out.

“I am proud of our team,” Malzahn said. “They fought to the end and all of that, but it was a disappointing loss, especially leading late in the game. You have got to give them credit. They are good team, playing on their home field. We just didn’t get it done.”

Worth Noting: There were only four punts in the game--two by each team.

Stat of the Game: Alabama scored five touchdowns on five trips into the red zone. Auburn scored two touchdowns and field goals on eight trips into the red zone.

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