Auburn Dominates Alabama! (Grading Auburn’s 26–14 win over Alabama)
A wildcat jump pass, for a touchdown!
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s incredible 26–14 win over top-ranked Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium. No miracle finish was needed this time over Alabama as Auburn enjoyed its biggest margin of Iron Bowl victory since 1969. Twice in the past 3 weeks Auburn has hosted the number one team in the nation, and both times Auburn came away with a double-digit victory. It is an unprecedented feat!
My biggest worry coming into this game was the battle in the trenches. It is very tough to do much of anything against the Tide on either side of the ball if a team can’t win up front. I feel like Auburn emphatically won this latest battle. Looking back to 2015 and 2016, I felt like Auburn won a lot of battles up front in those games, too, at least till the defense got tired. The real difference this year was quarterback play. Auburn had a stellar quarterback this year, and it made all of the difference. Jarrett Stidham had a masterful day against the top-ranked defense in the nation. Meanwhile, Auburn was able to harrass and limit Stidham’s Alabama counterpart.
We knew going in that Alabama was very tough against the run and that Auburn likely would not have much success just hammering at the Tide front. Alabama also has the speed to string out jet sweeps and limit them. Auburn was a little stubborn about pounding the ball on first down, but it had to be done. Auburn was not going to win this ballgame throwing it 50 times. Auburn ran the ball 49 times for 168 yards and threw 29 times for 240 yards. The short passing game was critical. Time and time again, Auburn converted screens and crossing patterns for first downs and more. This allowed Auburn to build up a big time of possession advantage and wear down the Alabama defense. Auburn scored 16 unanswered points in the second half to take the victory from the Crimson Tide.
On defense, aside from a second half opening drive, Auburn was able slow down Alabama’s run game and blanket its receivers. Frankly, if I were a Bama fan, I would be angry at the offensive play callers, who did not get any Alabama running back more than 6 carries. I really think that they gave up on it way too soon when they fell behind. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts led all Alabama rushers with 82 yards, but he had to work hard to get them. Hurts was not going to beat Auburn with his arm. The Auburn pass rush and secondary saw to that. While Hurts was only sacked twice, he was harassed into throwing the ball away, repeatedly killing drives. Auburn was credited with 9 total quarterback hurries and limited Alabama to just 112 passing yards on 22 attempts.
I was also worried about special teams mistakes hurting Auburn. Auburn gave up a big 55-yard kick return after taking a 20–14 lead, but the defense held with Alabama having a tipped touchdown catch nullified on replay and then botching a field goal attempt. Otherwise, Auburn covered decently, and Daniel Carlson scored every time he was called on. I was worried about Auburn punter Aiden Marshall getting badly outpunted by Alabama’s J. K. Scott, but Marshall performed admirably. He pinned Alabama inside the 20 on 3 of his 5 punts and forced a couple of Bama fair catches. Alabama managed no punt returns in the game. Alabama did bring the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs 3 times, but other than the one big return, Alabama was tackled inside the 25-yard line, losing yardage it would have otherwise had if the Tide had taken a knee.
Unit grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: A-. I counted off a bit on Alabama’s first drive of the second half. Auburn got caught repeatedly on that drive not setting the edge on those backside counter plays. To its credit, that got corrected quickly. The line managed only 2 tackles for a loss on the day, and the defense had just 3, overall. However, that was not the focus on this day. Auburn had to occupy blockers and not let Alabama run wild around the edges with their great runners. That mission was largely accomplished. The line contributed 23 tackles in total.
Linebackers: A. The total tackles numbers don’t tell the true story of this performance as Auburn played linebacker with leverage. Time and time again these guys forced Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts and various runners into traffic and waiting help. Deshaun Davis was the team co-leader in tackles with 7. The linebackers contributed 15 total tackles.
Secondary: A-. There was more sure tackling this week, and the Auburn secondary did not allow Alabama runners or receivers to get away for the most part. Bama had a little bit of success running to Tray Matthews’ side of the field, but a lot more failure, overall. Matthews co-led the team in tackles with 7. The secondary contributed 24 total tackles in this game. Auburn limited the ever-dangerous Calvin Ridley to just 3 catches for 38 yards. The key play of the game was made by Auburn cornerback Jordyn Peters. Alabama moved Ridley around all game to try and get him open. It finally got him matched up on Peters, and you could see jubilation on the Alabama side. The Tide were just sure with the game tied 7–7 that they were about to hit a big TD pass to Ridley. Instead, Peters broke up the pass and killed the Alabama drive. Bama would not threaten again in the first half, and real doubt was sown in the Bama passing game after that.
Punting: A. Aiden Marshall had a very good day, even if the 35.8 yard average does not show it. Most of Marshall’s punts were from around midfield, and his job was not to punt it into the stands for a touchback. His job was to pin Alabama deep and not allow a return. Mission accomplished!
Punt Returns: B. Stephen Roberts uncharacteristically let one ball hit and roll for about 20 yards, but that’s about the only thing I can fault the return team for against all-star punter JK Scott. Scott boomed ’em for a 46-yard average, and a second ball was killed at the Auburn 6. Tiger return men fair caught the other two in traffic.
Kick Returns: B+. Noah Igbinoghene had two kick returns. One was a conventional kickoff to the goal line, and Igbinoghene got 21 yards out of it, which isn’t bad at all against Alabama’s pretty good coverage team. The second kick was a pooch kick, and kudos to Igbinoghene for not only snaring that ball but getting 10 yards out of it. Alabama was hoping for a miscue.
Place Kicking: B+. Auburn had a great kicker in this game, and coverage was better than it has been in recent weeks. Daniel Carlson was perfect on 2 field goals and 2 extra points. Carlson hit 2 touchbacks on 5 kickoffs, but 4 of 5 made it into the end zone.
Offensive Line: B-. Auburn had difficulty at times with the Bama pass rush, particularly on the edge. Also, Auburn could not consistently move Alabama nose tackle Da’Ron Payne, which hampered the Auburn running game. Auburn did have some success run blocking the Bama ends and linebackers. And kudos to the Auburn coaching for recognizing the difficulties and changing the play calls to minimize the damage.
Running Backs: A-. This was mostly the Kerryon Johnson show at tailback again, but Kam Martin came in and played tough when Auburn was trying to run the clock out. Against the best defense in the nation statistically, KJ had 104 yards on 30 carries, caught 3 balls for 21 yards, and had a touchdown pass for good measure. Where I counted off was on pass protection. Auburn backs struggled a bit with Alabama’s dangerous pass rushers.
Receivers: A. I saw one dropped ball on the day, and that was on a contested out route by Nate Craig-Myers. To Auburn’s credit, it went right back to Craig-Myers on the very next play on a surgical post-pattern strike for a first down. Ryan Davis was a constant thorn in Alabama’s side, picking up 139 yards on 11 catches. Alabama got pressure on the quarterback, but Davis was there to toss the hot route to, and Alabama just could not keep up with him. Darius Slayton and Will Hastings also contributed key catches on quick throws. Auburn tried just a couple of deep balls to Slayton, and the Bama defensive back tackled Slayton both times, right in front of an official, and no penalties were called. In the interest of fairness, Auburn was only flagged once on several questionable grabs. I was irate about this during the game, but a second viewing showed more referee consistency than I had thought. They weren’t going to call holding or interference on either side, unless it was ridiculously blatant. Let ’em play, I guess.
Quarterback: A. I guess I have to count off for the fumbled snap on the goal line, but, wow, this was one of the best Iron Bowl performances for an Auburn quarterback I’ve ever seen. Stidham was just an assassin in this game. Alabama would win up front, have the lid on the coverage, and Stidham would still get a completion, or take off and pick up key first downs. It was Stidham running like a fullback in the 4th quarter on a keeper that iced the game for Auburn. Against Alabama’s vaunted defense, Stidham hit 21 of 28 passes, with no interceptions, for 237 yards. That works out to 8.4 yards per pass, which is enough to move the chains and win the Iron Bowl! This was accomplished against an Alabama defense which allows only 5.5 yards per pass on the season.
By all accounts, the Auburn fandom in attendance should be credited, too. We thought it was loud at the Georgia game, but according to witnesses, it was bedlam of the next order of magnitude in this one, and the noise contributed to some Bama miscues. One instance was when Auburn had driven to take a 20–14 lead. I feel like the noise on Alabama’s field goal attempt disrupted the center-holder timing and caused the lost snap. Then, there were back-to-back plays when Alabama needed to move the ball, trailing 26-14, that the center snapped the ball before quarterback Jalen Hurts was ready.
There were heroic performances all around by these Tigers. Some teams are intimidated and already half beaten by Alabama before the game even starts. Auburn went toe to toe with this number-one-ranked Tide team and won most of the battles. Regardless of what happens going forward this year, this is something amazing these players can take with them forever. They took on Goliath and manhandled him!
And so, Auburn moves on to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta next Saturday. Auburn will face the Georgia Bulldogs for the second time in 4 weeks. The Bulldogs are no doubt still smarting from the 40–17 beatdown Auburn put on them and will look to avenge that in the shiny new stadium in Atlanta. I figure that this game will have incredibly high ticket prices as both fan bases will want to get a numbers advantage in the stands over the other side.
Can Auburn whip Georgia again? I’ll do some research this week, but I have to feel like a fast, artificial surface favors Auburn in a lot of areas. Auburn’s defense relies on power up front and overwhelming speed in the back seven. Auburn’s offense has ridiculous speed and quickness at the receiver positions, and Auburn has the quarterback and scheme to get the ball to them. I’m looking forward to this one! It would be unprecedented fun to kick a Bulldog twice in one season!