Kicked and Picked Away: Alabama Playoff Streak Comes to Dramatic End at Auburn

Christopher Walsh

AUBURN, Ala. — It ended with a clang and a thud, plus a flag.

For the first time since 2010, the University of Alabama football team has finished the regular season with more than one loss, and college football will finally see a playoff without the Crimson Tide.

Despite gaining 515 yards of offense, dominating in time of possession and scoring another touchdown on special teams, Alabama ended up taking another dramatic loss at Auburn on Saturday, 48–45.

“It’s gonna hurt,” senior safety Jared Mayden said. “It’s supposed to hurt.”

There were eight lead changes and coming in Auburn hadn’t yielded more than 24 points in a game. Alabama tallied 31 in the first half alone.

But similar to the Kick Six, which ended the Crimson Tide’s bid for a third-straight national title in 2013, this one’s already being dubbed the Pick-Six Twins.

Thanks to a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns—the first 29 yards by safety Smoke Monday, the other 100 yards by linebacker Zakoby McClain off a ball that appeared to bounce of running back Najee Harris’ back — Auburn managed to win despite scoring just three offensive touchdowns.

The clang and the thud came on a last-minute 30-yard field goal attempt that hit the upright. The flag flew on the subsequent possession when on fourth-and-4 Alabama was called for an illegal substitution after Auburn put its punter on the field lined up as a wide receiver. The whistle blew when Alabama tried to switch back to its base defense.

The No. 15 Tigers (9–3) subsequently ran out the clock as fans started to rush the field.

“The disappointing thing is to me is we came here with the idea that we had to play with a lot of discipline, not get a lot of penalties, do a great job of executing and doing our job on a consistent basis,” Nick Saban said about being flagged 13 times. “I don’t think we did that. We had way too many penalties, put ourselves in a lot of bad situations.”

He added: “Whether you slap a guy in the head, or rough the quarterback, or snap the ball when we’re supposed to  so we get five false starts. All those things to me are we have to have more disciple in executing. I’m not criticizing anyone, I’m just making the point that these are lessons to be learned and when you play good teams that’s when those things bite you.”

Actually, just about everything came back to bite Alabama this season, which will eventually be this team’s legacy.

That and this game, even though the Crimson Tide had been decimated by injuries.

Among the things squandered by Alabama here were four touchdowns and 230 total yards by Waddle. Harris had nearly 100 rushing yards by halftime and finished with 146. The offensive line opened up a lot of holes for him and gave up just one sack.

In just his third career start, and first against a ranked opponent, Jones was 26-for-39 for 335 yards, along with the four touchdowns.

But Alabama still gave Auburn those 14 points off the two interceptions. 

“I think it was pressure look and I should have just thrown it away and kicked the field goal,” Jones said about the 100-yard interception return. “Hopefully it’s a learning experience. Ten times out of 10 usually do that in practice. This time I tried to squeeze in there so it wasn’t a good idea by me.”

It was the first pick-six that turned the game into a wild shootout, with 5:36 until halftime. Beginning with Waddle’s spectacular 98-yard kick return for a touchdown the teams combined to score five more times before the break.

Even that proved to be on the borderline weird side, as No. 5 Alabama (10-2) thought the clock had run out and headed to the locker room. It had to bring everyone back following the review, which allowed Auburn an opportunity to snap the ball and for Anders Carlson to make a 52-yard field goal.

“That was really the difference in the game,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

The weirder the game got, the more it worked it Auburn’s advantage.

And now Alabama has to wait and see its bowl destination, knowing the playoff is out of reach. The Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma remains a possibility, which ironically was the matchup after the Kick Six loss.

“We’ll see what we’re made of,” Jones said.