Auburn Tops the Tide! (Grading Auburn’s 48–45 win over Alabama)
Sal Cannella snatches one away from Bama!
War Eagle everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on an epic 48–45 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide. A day later, I still can’t believe the Tigers pulled this win off. A look at the stat sheets boggles the mind. Alabama scored 5 offensive touchdowns to Auburn’s 3. Alabama had 161 more yards of offense than Auburn did, and Auburn allowed a kick-return touchdown for good measure. If you had told me that Alabama was going to have 515 yards of offense and score 45 points, I would have envisioned an Alabama blowout win.
Midway through the second quarter, the game was tied at 10–10 on a long field goal by Anders Carlson. The game looked for all the world like it was going to be one of those tense, low-scoring Iron Bowls. Then, an explosion of points occurred before halftime. First, Alabama quarterback Mac Jones threw possibly his only bad pass of the day. The pass sailed and was picked off by Smoke Monday, who took it to the end zone. The Auburn lead did not last long. Bama’s Jaylen Waddle ran the ensuing kickoff back through the heart of the Auburn coverage without being touched. On Auburn’s second play, JaTarvious Whitlow fumbled the ball back to Alabama in Auburn territory.
Alabama quickly cashed the lone Auburn turnover of the day, hitting a perfectly thrown fade route to DeVonta Smith to the Auburn 4-yard line. Mac Jones, falling backwards under intense pressure, found Henry Ruggs in the back of the end zone. In just a few plays, Auburn was trailing Alabama 24–17. Auburn answered, with 3 incredible catches in a row. First, Seth Williams made a one-handed grab of a 37-yard fade pass. Then Will Hastings came out of nowhere to snag an attempted throw-away for another first down. Next, quarterback Bo Nix lofted a pass to the end zone that looked for all the world to be overthrown and out of bounds. Sal Cannella leaped and snagged the pass and got both feet down in bounds for the tying touchdown.
Jaylen Waddle burned Auburn quickly on the next series. Jones found Waddle on a simple curl route, and Waddle outran the whole Auburn secondary for a 58-yard touchdown. Auburn had the ball last in the half, hoping to move it for at least a field goal, but the Tigers were out of timeouts. A screen pass to JaTarvious Whitlow got a first down at the Alabama 34, but the clock seemed to expire while Alabama was wrestling Whitlow to the ground. Video replay showed that Whitlow was down with 1 second left.
I’ve seen much arguing about the officials on this one, but to my view I think they got it right. The real issue was whether Auburn would be able to snap the ball and get a field goal attempt off, before the clock expired. While the review was going on, Alabama players went to the locker room while Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn sent the field goal unit out and got them lined up. Most descriptions of the play don’t mention this, but Alabama had to call timeout in order to get its field goal blocking unit out there. It is in the official box score play by play: “Timeout Alabama, clock 00:01.” So, instead of the clock starting again at the ready-to-play signal, the rule is that after a timeout the clock does not start till the ball is snapped. Daniel Carlson was true on the 52-yard attempt, and Alabama led 31–27 at the half.
Auburn began the second half holding Alabama to a rare 3 and out and got good field position out of the punt. The Tigers had to settle for a field goal on that possession, which cut the Alabama lead to 31–30. Alabama then threatened to take control of the game, driving the ball relentlessly down the field to a first and goal at the Auburn 9. From there, a weird day turned even more bizarre.
A total of 6 plays were run inside the Auburn 10, and it looked for all the world that Alabama was about to go up by 8 points. An incomplete 3rd down pass had the look of a heroic Auburn stop, but a roughing the passer flag gave Alabama a first down. Auburn stoned an Alabama handoff, but then a pass interference flag gave Alabama yet another first down at the 2-yard line. On 1st down, Mac Jones dropped to pass but had to throw it early towards the receiver. The ball hit Alabama receiver Najee Harris in the back and bounced right to surprised Auburn linebacker Zakoby McClain, who set sail the other way. A big escort of Auburn players walled off any Alabama pursuit. McClain scored, 100 yards later. That was really a critical play as instead of an 8-point Bama lead, Auburn was up by 6, 37–31.
The interception did not appear to faze Alabama quarterback Mac Jones. He picked a tired Auburn secondary apart, making a great throw to Jaylen Waddle on a crossing pattern for Waddle’s third touchdown of the day, and Alabama was back in front, 38–37. I sure hope Waddle decides to declare for the NFL. Auburn did not have anyone who could catch him in the open field.
The teams traded punts, then JaTarvious Whitlow had the biggest run of the day, 36 yards, to set up a possible touchdown. A sideline scuffle and personal foul flag on Auburn ended that hope, but the Tigers did get into position with a screen pass to Eli Stove to bring in the field goal unit once again. And again, Anders Carlson was true, nailing his 4th of the day. The Tigers had the lead again, 40–38, as the 3rd quarter came to a close.
On the ensuing possession, Auburn again could not stop Alabama. The Tide capped the drive with a jump-ball pass to Jaylen Waddle for his 4th touchdown of the day. Alabama led, 44–40, and appeared to be lining up to go for 2. A borderline false-start penalty backed them up, and the Tide settled for the extra point to take a 45–40 lead with 13:44 left in the game.
It was do-or-die time for the Auburn offense, and the Tigers imposed their will. Bo Nix carried twice for 27 yards, drew a roughing-the-passer flag, and completed all of his passes while JaTarvious Whitlow pounded into the Alabama defense and fought for yards time and time again. Finally, it was 3rd and 5 at the Alabama 11, and Auburn went with the wildcat. The Tigers had really become predictable with that late in the season, always running off tackle to the right. Alabama dutifully shifted over. Instead, the call was a speed sweep, again to the right, but recipient Shaun Shivers had the vision to cut the ball up and run through an Alabama defender for the touchdown. Auburn was back ahead, and there was an Alabama defender trying to find his helmet that had been knocked off in the collision. The Tigers elected to go for a 2-point conversion. Bo Nix rolled right and completed a short pass to Shedrick Jackson, who posted up perfectly just beyond the goal line. Auburn was up 48–45.
Alabama got the ball back with over 8 minutes left, and it seemed that it had plenty of time. Take its time, Alabama certainly did, with a mostly ground-and-pound approach. Alabama was hindered by penalties on the drive, false starting 3 times. The Tide moved to 1st and goal at the Auburn 9-yard line, then false started again. This made it difficult on the Tide. A quarterback draw got Alabama back to the 10, then on 3rd down Alabama wanted a throw to the end zone. Auburn’s Derrick Brown wasn’t having it. He batted the pass back to Matt Jones, who tried to scramble forward, but Brown pulled him down at the 12. In came the Alabama field goal unit to tie the game up with a 30-yard field goal attempt. Incredibly, the kick from Joseph Bulovas hit the left upright and bounced away, no good!
Auburn took over at the 20 by rule. Alabama had used up over 6 minutes on the drive and came up empty. Auburn ran JaTarvious Whitlow 3 times for 6 yards, eating up all of Alabama’s timeouts. Then another incredible sequence happened.
I expected Auburn to run as much of the game clock as possible then punt it back to Alabama with maybe a minute left in the game. Instead, Auburn lined up quickly with the offense still out there on 4th and 4. I thought,“Has Malzahn lost his mind?” Auburn looked like it wanted to quick snap it while the Alabama return team was coming out. The official held up the snap because Auburn had subbed a player in and allowed Alabama to substitute. Mass confusion reigned as the Tide coaches realized that the player Auburn had subbed in was punter Arryn Siposs, and Siposs was lined up as a wide receiver. Alabama then tried to pull the return team off and get the defense back out there. Unfortunately, the return man Jaylen Waddle did not get the signal in time. Alabama lined up with 12 defenders out there, and the officials threw the flag. The penalty gave Auburn a first down, and from there, Bo Nix was able to take a knee twice, and run the clock out.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban complained about that 4th-down call being unfair in his post-game press conference, but it was well within the rules. If the offense substitutes, the officials will hold up the snap and allow the defense to substitute also. However, they won’t allow the defense to run players out there, run them back to the sideline and send more players out. A team basically has to be prompt with the substitutions and can’t just waste time with indecision. You can’t just shuffle endlessly while breaking down the formation the offense has lined up in.
Unit grades after the jump!
Defensive Line: C+. This was the first game of the year where I can really say that Auburn’s defensive line was matched. Aside from Derrick Brown, no one else up front recorded a stat in the backfield except for 1 roughing the passer penalty. Brown had 7 tackles, including 3.5 for a loss, and 1 quarterback hurry. The line contributed 16 tackles. This was the best offensive line Auburn has seen all year, and the Tide bunch did a really good job.
Linebackers: B+. Auburn linebackers filled holes pretty well but lost outside contain from time to time, especially early. Zakoby McClain was all over the field, leading all tacklers with 11. He also returned an interception 100 yards for a score. I would not have believed any linebacker could return one 100 yards on Alabama, not with all the speed the Tide has on offense. K.J. Britt and Owen Papoe were solid as well. The linebackers were credited with 24 tackles.
Secondary: B-. This group tackled well but drew several flags and had big trouble with Alabama speed. Smoke Monday had the only sack of the day for Auburn, and Smoke returned an interception for a touchdown. The Auburn secondary had 36 tackles.
Punting: A+. Arryn Siposs had a light day with only a couple of punts. His decoy work on Auburn’s last 4th down might have been the play of the day. Siposs had punts of 52 and 46 yards and did not allow the ever dangerous Jaylen Waddle to return one. Bo Nix also had a 42-yard quick kick, which unfortunately rolled in for a touchback. However, that was better than letting Waddle have any chance at it.
Punt Returns: A-. Alabama punted 3 times, and Ty Perine had a good 45-yard average. Christian Tutt was able to field 2 of those for 47 important yards. Tutt did fumble at the end of one return, but fortunately it rolled out of bounds, and Auburn kept possession.
Kick Returns: B. This was a tough area to grade. Auburn’s yards-per-return average was only 16.0 yards, but 2 of the 3 returns were on high sky kicks. Both teams went to this kicking strategy, and Alabama did pretty well at limiting Auburn’s opportunities and field position, for the most part. I give Auburn a B for not having any muffs.
Place Kicking: B+. I suppose I should count off for the kick-return touchdown. I was expecting Anders Carlson to mortar-launch all of the kickoffs out of the end zone, and that didn’t happen. I don’t know if that was just due to an off day, or if it was by design. I suspect the latter. After the touchdown return, Carlson did exclusively sky kicks, and Auburn did not execute those quite as well as Alabama did. If this grade was just on the field goal unit, the grade would be an A+. Anders Carlson was perfect on 4 attempts, and Auburn ended up winning by 3 points.
Offensive Line: A. Auburn actually got some push in the middle at times and pass protected pretty well. The line allowed no sacks, had no flags, and only 4 tackles for a loss. The line paved the way for 181 rushing yards and a 5.3 yards per carry average.
Running Backs: B-. JaTarvious Whitlow led the way for Auburn with 114 rushing yards, but he also lost a fumble and dropped a pass. Shaun Shivers had the run of the day, scoring a touchdown after bashing an Alabama player’s helmet off. I’ve also got to give H-back Spencer Nigh a mention. He was out there a good bit and was very helpful against Alabama’s multiple looks and blitzes.
Receivers: A. This was probably the best secondary Auburn has faced this year, yet Auburn receivers made plays. Eli Stove got key tough yards on screens. Seth Williams had 66 receiving yards and made a couple of great catches. Shedrick Jackson executed on the 2-point conversion reception. The catch of the day had to be Sal Cannella’s touchdown. Just incredible!
Quarterback: B-. This wasn’t a great day for Nix, but on the other hand he didn’t cost Auburn with turnovers. Timely running moved the chains and produced points. I have to give credit to Nix for trusting his receivers on some of those throws and placing it where Alabama couldn’t get the ball.
Congratulations to the Auburn team on a historic Iron Bowl win over Alabama andalso to those fans who attended and made Alabama miserable with the wall of noise! The fans really hampered Alabama communications and were possibly the difference in the game.
For Auburn, it is a week to savor this win and wait for bowl-selection time next weekend. My gut says that Auburn will likely get a Citrus or Outback bid, but we will see. There will be a good many 1 or 2 loss teams that most likely don’t make the playoff. However, the SEC has gotten teams into the New Year’s Six with 3 or 4 losses before. I’m thinking of Ole Miss in 2014 (Peach) and 2015 (Sugar), and Auburn got into the Sugar Bowl in 2016 with 4 losses. Last season, Georgia made the Sugar Bowl with 2 losses, and both Florida and LSU got New Year’s Six bids (Peach and Fiesta) with 3 losses.