AUBURN, Ala. — No. 2 Alabama survived a raucous Iron Bowl atmosphere to earn a 29-13 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. Here are three thoughts on the Crimson Tide’s victory.
1. In a game featuring very few big plays, kicking was the difference-maker
This game felt like a field-goal fest for much of the afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Neither team scored a touchdown until early in the fourth quarter, and high-flying offense was no where to be found. That’s why the kicking game ended up determining the winner of the 80th Iron Bowl.
As Alabama struggled in the red zone against Auburn’s normally questionable defense, kicker Adam Griffith kept his team afloat. Griffith was a perfect 5-of-5 on field goals on the day, including a 50-yard boot in the second quarter. A few series after Auburn cut Alabama’s lead to 19-13 in the third quarter, the Crimson Tide again stalled in scoring territory. Griffith helped his team avoid a scoreless drive with a 47-yard kick that made it a two-score game in the fourth quarter. Auburn didn’t threaten after that.
In a game defined by field goals, Auburn didn’t do its part. Tigers kicker Daniel Carlson hit his first two kicks but missed a 48-yard attempt in the second quarter. That ended up being a momentum killer for Auburn as Griffith maintained his accuracy in clutch situations. The Tigers’ offense, meanwhile, produced only 13 points, leaving a lot of the pressure on Carlson’s shoulders. Unfortunately, he was the second-best kicker on the field Saturday.
2. Auburn’s normally questionable defense made the Crimson Tide earn a win
The Tigers entered the Iron Bowl ranked 12th in the SEC in total defense (4.5 yards per play allowed). But coordinator Will Muschamp’s much maligned defense played inspired football for most of the afternoon.
The defense limited Alabama to only two touchdowns. Auburn kept the Tide out of the end zone for the first half and trailed by only six points at the break. But at least one big play killed the Tigers in the end: Early in the third quarter Alabama quarterback Jake Coker evaded two Auburn defenders and threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to ArDarius Stewart, the first touchdown of the day. Coker’s scramble gave the Tide a passing score to accompany running back Derrick Henry’s effort on the ground. The junior ran a whopping 46 times for 271 yards and a touchdown.
For much of the season, Auburn’s defense was a liability. But it held up in a rivalry game on Saturday. The Tigers didn’t get a win, but the defense can’t be unhappy with its effort against Alabama.
3. Alabama has punched its ticket to the SEC Championship Game
In the previous three seasons, the winner of the Iron Bowl has gone on to win the SEC title. But Alabama entered Saturday as the only team in Jordan-Hare Stadium with a shot at reaching Atlanta. It needed to beat Auburn to seal its spot in the Georgia Dome; thanks to the Tide’s earlier loss to Ole Miss, the Rebels still held a chance at the West crown.
But Alabama kept its destiny in its own hands by beating the rival Tigers, its ninth straight win since dropping that Sept. 19 meeting with Ole Miss. Now the Crimson Tide must prep to beat Florida, which has already clinched the East in coach Jim McElwain’s first season. The Gators face Florida State on Saturday, one week after needing overtime to escape Florida Atlantic in the Swamp. If Alabama wins in Atlanta, it should earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.