Eli Stove (above) was one of the few bright spots for the Auburn offense.
Tuscaloosa, Ala.--Auburn made Iron Bowl 2016 interesting for a half, but Alabama took control in the third quarter on Saturday and pulled away for a 30-12 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Auburn’s lack of production on offense was the major issue for Gus Malzahn’s team, but in the second half the defense began to struggle, too. As a result the Tide outscored the Tigers 17-3 in the second half to remain unbeaten at 12-0 going into next Saturday’s SEC Championship Game vs. Florida.
Auburn, which dropped to 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the SEC, will have to wait a week to find out its bowl destination. In the meantime the Tigers will have to deal with a third straight loss to their archrival and sixth overall loss in their rivalry games when you throw in a three-game losing streak to the Georgia Bulldogs.
“Our defense played extremely well until they got worn down,” Malzahn said. “What really stands out to me is that the time of possession is double.
“We just didn’t get first downs offensively,”?he said. “We really didn’t get it done. We were 2-12 on third downs. I think that really caused the problem.”
Malzahn said that led to the Tigers running just 20 plays in the first half when his team went into the locker room trailing 13-9 despite making just one first down and netting 31 yards.
For the game the Tigers gained just 182 yards. The were out-rushed 203-66 and out-passed 298 to 116.
The coach said the start of the third quarter was a big problem for his team. “Even with 20 plays we had a chance. We went three-and-out and then they scored, and then it was kind of an uphill battle from then.”
Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts scored on a four-yard keeper at right end with 9:58 left in the third quarter to put the home team up 20-9 with 9:58 left to play. Considering the way AU’s offense was struggling, that score pushed the momentum strongly in the Tide’s favorite.
When Alabama scored on a fourth down 38-yard pass play to ArDarius Stewart with 5:16 that was the insurance TD the Tide needed to have a comfortable finish on Saturday evening.
Daniel Carlson, who was 4-5 on field goals, kicked one with 2:11 left in the third, but that was the last score for the Tigers. Alabama matched that with a 34-yarder by Adam Griffith with 12:46 to play.
“We have got players in there that are hurting,”?Malzahn said. “We have coaches in there that are hurting. This is a tough one, but give them credit they are a good team. We really expected to play better than we did.”
Sophomore linebacker DeShaun Davis (57) tied for the game-lead in tackles.
The Tigers scored on their first possession thanks to a 58-yard punt return by Stephen Roberts to the 21-yard line. However, the offense went nowhere and the Tigers settled for a 42-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson.
Alabama tied the game at 5:40 mark of the first quarter on a 29-yard field goal by Adam Griffith to complete a 64-yard drive that covered 13 plays.
With Auburn’s offense continuing to struggle, Alabama took the lead late in the opening quarter by moving 55 yards on three plays. A swing pass to the right sideline from Jalen Hurts to Damien Harris covered 17 yards to put the home team on top 10-3.
The first of two first half interceptions by freshman Daniel Thomas set up a 52-yard field goal by Carlson with 13:38 left in the second quarter. Once again the AU offense couldn’t take advantage of being set up with good field position.
The Tigers cut the lead to one point after another interception by Thomas, whose 29-yard return put Auburn in business at the Alabama 41. Auburn managed its initial first down of the game on a 13-yard wildcat run by Kerryon Johnson, but stalled at the Tide 22 before kicking a 39-yard field goal with 3:30 before halftime.
After pooch kickoff that was fair caught at the 34, Alabama moved 59 yards on 11 plays before stalling on third and four at the seven-yard line when Hurts couldn’t find a receiver and threw an incompletion. Griffith kicked a 25-yard field goal to make the score 13-9, Alabama’s advantage, at the break.
First Half Numbers: The Tigers netted just 31 yards on 20 first half plays and only one first down. AU ran the ball 10 times for 27 yards and hit 4-10 passes for four yards. The Tide gained 69 yards on 18 runs and hit 19-26 passes for 194 yards.
Auburn got the ball to start the third quarter, but after a three-and-out the Tide moved 57 yards on eight plays to increase the lead to 20-9.
The Tide then put the hammer down and began to pull away with a 64-yard drive to make the score 27-9.
Auburn’s biggest play of the game, a 55-yard pass from John Franklin to Eli Stove, moved the Tigers to the Tide 12-yard line. However, on fourth and eight the Tigers settled for a 27-yard field goal when they desperately needed a touchdown.
Malzahn tried to put a positive spin on an unhappy end to the regular season. “I will say this, we have a really young team. We have a lot of talented young guys. We are going to be really good in the future. This is one of those growing years with some ups and downs.”
One of the team’s veteran players, redshirt junior defensive end Carl Lawson, said the loss was tough to take. “It hurts--it hurts real bad.
“We just didn’t do enough as a team and I didn’t do enough,”?he said. “We just have to go look at the film and get better. We will regroup for the bowl and I think we will handle it well.”
Asked about the defense, Lawson said, “We forced a couple of turnovers in the first half, but we couldn’t carry that over into the second half and we lost the game.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban had praise for his team’s performance. “Our defensive players really play well together,”?he said. “Auburn presents some tough issues and challenges with personnel groups, motions and formation adjustments so I thought our guys did a really good job for the most part adjusting to those.
“The defense was put in some really tough spots in this game,” Saban said. “I think there was a point in the game where they had only one or two first downs, but had nine points because of turnovers, poor punts and poor punt coverage they had a big return on so we had some really challenging field positions in this game and our players responded well to it.”
Worth Noting, Part 1: Injured starter Sean White was available on an emergency basis, Malzahn said. “Sean practiced,” the coach said. “He wasn’t 100 percent. We just had to make the decision how healthy he was.
“Jeremy (Johnson) had a good week last week, he had a good week of practice and our plan was play Jeremy and play John (Franklin). We wanted to play John a little bit more and then, of course, towards the end of the game we felt we needed a spark and John did a good job with that.”
Malzahn said “in the future we could see more”?of Franklin at quarterback.
Franklin hit 2-4 passes for 85 yards and ran the ball three times for 14 yards. Jeremy Johnson was 4-13 passing for 34 yards and had minus one yard on two carries.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Rudy Ford injured his ankle in the game, but his replacement, true freshman Daniel Thomas made five solo tackles with one assist while intercepting two passes. “He really stepped up,” Malzahn said.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Linebackers Tree Williams and DeShaun Davis led all tacklers with seven solo stops and three assists.
Worth Noting, Part 4: Kamryn Pettway said he was “98 percent” of full speed after the game in which he carried the ball 12 times for 17 yards.
Stat of the Game: Auburn converted just 2-12 third downs. The Tide converted 8-16, including four of seven in the second half.