TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama won the SEC West title before taking the field against Auburn on Saturday thanks to Mississippi State’s loss in the Egg Bowl, but for three quarters it seemed the Tigers would eliminate the Crimson Tide from College Football Playoff contention and crush their national title dreams for a second consecutive season. However, Alabama stormed back for a 55-44 win behind a defense that finally awoke and a receiver who couldn’t be covered.
Here are three thoughts from the game:
1. Alabama’s place in the playoff is safe for now, but its seed may not be
The Crimson Tide would have been knocked out of the top four with a loss and probably would have required some serious help to get back in. Now, Alabama can likely advance to the playoff by beating Missouri in next week’s SEC title game. Still, don’t be shocked if the College Football Playoff selection committee drops Alabama behind Oregon after watching the Iron Bowl. It was an emotional win for Alabama, but the Crimson Tide gave up 630 yards to the Tigers. There is no reason Oregon, Baylor or TCU couldn’t do the same thing in a playoff game. Yet Alabama’s offense (541 total yards) also proved it can win a shootout.
2. Crimson Tide receiver Amari Cooper will go to New York in December
Cooper broke the Iron Bowl record for total receiving yards (224) and scored three touchdowns. He was nearly unstoppable as Alabama hung in and then charged back in the third quarter, catching five passes for 141 yards.
Does this mean Cooper will win the Heisman Trophy? Probably not. A receiver hasn’t won since Desmond Howard in 1991, and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon -- the two likely frontrunners -- both continued to state their cases on Saturday. Still, Cooper’s dominance cannot be ignored. Teams know the Tide will target him, and they still can’t cover him. A great example came in the fourth quarter as the Tide started to build on their lead. Alabama faced third-and-11, and everyone in the stadium knew Cooper would be the target. Quarterback Blake Sims found him over the middle, and Cooper held onto the ball even after getting spun around by the initial hit. The play resulted in a first down, and the Tide went on to score a touchdown.
3. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall proved he isn’t just a runner
The Tigers quarterback unleashed some beauties on Saturday, topped by a 68-yard touchdown pass to a streaking Sammie Coates just before halftime. Marshall finished with 456 passing yards and three touchdowns, but the Tigers simply could not convert enough in the red zone. They had to settle for field goals three times in the opening 20 minutes, and they turned the ball over on downs in the red zone while trailing by 12 points with 6:55 remaining.