Jeremy Johnson (above) was 10-23 passes for 169 yards.
Auburn, Ala.--Coach Gus Malzahn wanted to get the Iron Bowl into the fourth quarter with a chance to pull off the upset. His Auburn football team made that happen, but couldn’t make enough big plays with the game on the line and dropped a 29-13 decision to Alabama it had a chance to win until late in the contest.
The big story was the power running of Alabama’s Derrick Henry, who carried the football 46 times for an average of 5.9 yards per rush while totaling 271 yards.
Auburn’s inability to stop Henry enough times allowed the Tide to improve to 11-1 overall and advance to next week’s SEC Championship Game vs. Florida. The Tigers are 6-6 overall, 2-6 in the league, and will finish their season in a still-to-be-announced bowl game.
“First of all, our kids fought their guts out,” Malzahn said. “I really appreciate their effort. Our fans were unbelievable. They helped us get to the fourth quarter, and they were there the whole time for us.
“We had opportunities in the fourth quarter,” he said. “We talked all week about getting in the game and into the fourth quarter, and finding a way to win. We were right there and just didn’t make the plays to win the game, and they did.”
The Tigers trailed 19-13 going into the final period and had several good opportunities to score before then they didn’t capitalize on, but Alabama added a key field goal with 10 minutes to play to stretch the lead to 22-13. When the home team was unable to answer the upset hopes were washed away.
“We didn’t make enough plays in the second half to win the game,” Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “We had our opportunities. Our kids played so hard. We came up a few plays short.”
Lashlee said the loss hurt. “It is never easy to lose to those guys. Our guys fought their guts out.”
Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp had praise for his players’ effort and for the running of Henry. “Give him credit,” Muschamp said about the Tide running back. “He is a elite talent.”
Commenting on the Auburn defense, Muschamp said, “When you are playing a game like this you can’t drop pick sixes. You can't miss multiple sacks. We had our opportunities and we let it slip through. We had a great opportunity for a victory today.”
Alabama struck first on a warm and sunny afternoon. After forcing a three-and-out on the opening possession for the Tigers, Alabama took advantage of good field position by moving 48 yards on 18 plays to set up a 26-yard field goal by Adam Griffith with 11:28 on the clock.
Auburn responded on the next possession with a 24-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson to tie the contest. Auburn moved 68 yards on nine plays with the longest play a 28-yard pass to Peyton Barber, who was uncovered on a sideline route. Auburn’s score came at the 7:35 mark.
A three-and-out for the Auburn defense, aided by an offensive pass interference call on the Tide, gave the Tigers excellent field position on their third possession.
The Tigers kept the ball for seven plays and took the lead on a 44-yard field goal at the end of a drive that covered 22 yards.
After nearly avoiding a safety on the kickoff, Alabama started at its 10-yard line and moved 67 yards on 14 plays to tie the game on a 41-yard field goal by Griffith.
Alabama regained the lead at the 6:58 mark of the second quarter on a 26-yard field goal to cap a drive that covered 55 yards on six plays. The Tide made 46 yards on a pass to Calvin Ridley to the five-yard line, but the Tide couldn’t punch it for a touchdown. On second and goal at the one, Henry bounced off a pileup in the middle and tried to get outside, but lost nine yards on the play. An incomplete pass then forced the field goal attempt.
The Tigers had a chance to tie the game on a 48-yard field goal, but Carlson mishit the ball and his kick was wide right with 1:24 before halftime. That ended his streak at 16 consecutive makes, an AU record.
Alabama then moved into Auburn territory and kicked a 50-yard field goal with 24 seconds left to make the score 12-6 at the break.
The play before the field goal Blake Countess dropped a potential pick-six touchdown with nobody between the senior defensive back and the goal line. The play could have been a 10-point swing.
“We talk about five to seven plays in a game that can change a game and the (dropped interception) was one of those plays,” Countess said. “That was on me.”
Halftime Numbers: The Tigers held the ball for 36 plays and gained 146 yards with 90 on 29 carriers. Jeremy Johnson hit 3-7 passes for 56 yards. Jovon Robinson rushed for 53 yards on 12 carries. Alabama gained 215 yards on 33 plays with 109 on 18 carries. Henry ran for 102 yards on 16 carries and Jake Coker hit 9-16 passes for 106 yards. Alabama had 10 first downs to eight for the Tigers, who were penalized five times for 25 yards while Alabama was penalized three times for 35 yards. There were no turnovers in the half.
Alabama stretched the lead to 19-7 with an 85-yard drive on nine plays. A 34-yard pass from Coker to ArDarius Stewart came with 5:14 after the quarterback escape a pass rush from Carl Lawson and Byron Cowart, one of those opportunities that Muschamp mentioned.
Earlier in the possession, Coker kept the drive alive by avoiding a sack and scrambling for seven yards to give Alabama fourth and inches to convert a first down.
Auburn answered and did it quickly on the next possession as Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith hooked up on a 77-yard pass play over the middle when the wide receiver tipped the ball to himself--twice--before gaining possession and racing into the south end zone. He said that during the play he flashed back to Ricardo Louis making a play like that two years ago vs. Georgia.
Jason Smith heads towards the end zone.
Alabama moved ahead 22-13 on a 47-yard field goal by Griffith with 10:04 left in the fourth quarter to cap a 52-yard drive that was aided by 30 yards of penalties on the same play. After a late hit personal foul on the Tigers the Auburn bench was given an additional 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Tigers had no possessions to waste after that, but did by moving just 11 yards on five plays. They didn’t get the ball back until 2:46 remained and couldn’t move when Melvin Ray dropped passes on third and fourth down that would have been nice gainers.
Four plays later Henry scored on a 25-yard run around right end with 26 seconds left to stretch the final margin to 29-13.
Malzahn vowed after the game that the Tigers will bounce back from their disappointing season.
“There are a lot of different things in my mind that we have to work on to get better and we will,” ?he said, noting going into specifics. “This was our last regular season game and we will get a plan and get better. I guarantee that.”
Sophomore Stephen Roberts (14) was in on six tackles and broke up a pass.
Nick Saban, Alabama’s head coach, said he “couldn’t be more proud” of his team.
“This was a tough game today, a really tough game today, and we expected it would be a tough game. I’ve got to give the Auburn players a lot of credit. They played hard. It was really a battle and a tough one.”
Worth Noting: Auburn’s 77-yard TD pass was the longest of the season.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Both offenses struggled on third downs. Auburn converted just 3-15 chances while Alabama converted 5-16.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Jovon Robinson led Auburn in rushing with 51 yards on 14 carries, only two which were in the second half.
Stat of the Game: Alabama held the ball 21 minutes and 39 seconds in the second half to just 8 minutes and 21 seconds for the Tigers.