TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — No Nick Saban, no problem.
In what could be considered the strangest Iron Bowl ever, where the University of Alabama coach was absent due to a positive COVID-19 test, the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide came away victorious in a 42-13 trouncing of No. 22 Auburn inside Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
"It's a great win for our players and coaches," Saban said postgame. "I think everybody stepped up and did a really good job today. I think the energy was good. The offense made a lot of explosive plays out there and the defense played well. I know this is a big game for all of our supporters.
"It's just an overall great team win."
Alabama (8-0) quarterback Mac Jones, who threw two pick-sixes against the Tigers in a loss last season, continued his Heisman campaign, completing 18 of his 26 passes for 302 yards and five touchdowns.
With assistant Steve Sarkisian taking the reins as interim head coach, his offense went three-and-out on its opening possession of the game, which is a rare sight for the Crimson Tide in 2020.
But after that one sluggish drive, it was an uphill climb for the Tigers defense, which seemingly had no answer for any of the problems created by Jones and company.
On his next time out, Jones got an Auburn safety to bite on a pump fake, then launched a 66-yard bomb to senior wideout DeVonta Smith to put Alabama up, 7-0, and never look back.
"It was a good call," Jones said. "I just kinda threw it up to Smitty -- he's wide open and makes a great play. For it to work, you have to have good protection from your line and running backs and we had that so it was pretty easy on my part."
The Crimson Tide signal caller would go on to throw two more touchdowns in the first half, a seven-yard pass to wide receiver John Metchie III and then a 24-yard lob to tight end Jahleel Billingsley, which was the first of his career.
With Alabama up 21-3 at intermission, Jones wasn't done torching the Tigers' secondary just yet.
After a 45-yard field goal from Auburn kicker Anders Carlson, the ensuing possession saw Jones hit Smith on a slant route, and he proceeded to take it all the way to the house for a 55-yard score with 9:08 remaining in the third quarter.
His final score of the day was a 24-yard dime to Metchie with 13:27 in the fourth period, giving the Crimson Tide a 42-6 lead and slamming the door shut on any hopes Auburn had of a comeback.
"Last week, I felt like I didn't play as good as I could have," Jones said. "I tried to improve on the little things throughout the week. My teammates are always going to do their jobs so I have to match them. They make it easy."
Smith finished with seven catches for 171 yards and those two touchdowns. It was also his fifth 100-yard receiving game of the year. With his efforts against the Tigers, the Amrite, La. native went over 1,000 yards for the season and is only the fourth Crimson Tide wide out to achieve that feat in multiple seasons.
"We’ve done really good against top receivers in our league," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “He’s a dynamic player, and there’s no doubt he did a good job on the perimeter with some of their bubble game too, but up to this game we’ve done a good job on main receivers.
"They’ve got talented receivers and we knew that we had to apply pressure on the quarterback. A couple times we were close to getting [Jones], but give him credit, he was very accurate and he threw some very good balls for explosive plays.”
The epic performance from Jones was fueled by Auburn quarterback Bo Nix's comments from earlier in the week, when he called his counterpart a 'game manager,' according to Smith.
"When I saw it, I sent it to Mac and showed him," Smith said. "It was just funny seeing that. At the end of the day, people are going to talk and do what they want and we are going to show up, execute the game plan, and do what we do."
Along with finding pay dirt twice, Metchie added six receptions for 55 yards.
Senior running back Najee Harris also had quite the game, tallying up 130 yards from scrimmage on just 13 touches, including a 39-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
For Auburn (5-3), Nix threw for 227 yards and two interceptions, while rushing for one touchdown. Wide out Anthony Schwartz was his top target with five catches for 60 yards.
The Crimson Tide defense was in Nix's face all day, sacking him three times, which was a season-high for the unit, and only allowed 120 rushing yards. The Tigers converted nine of its 19 third-down attempts and averaged only 4.3 yards a play.
"I think our defense has improved, jelled and gotten better together as a unit," Saban said. "I think we are using more players now, which enhances everybody's role to have a chance to go out and contribute."
Normally, the Iron Bowl marks the end of the regular season but Alabama still has two road games left against LSU, then Arkansas, before it can turn the page to the postseason.
"It's important in this time of year to take care of our team in terms how we practice and recover," Saban said. "This is going to be a big game for us at LSU. They always have a lot of really good players. I don't care what their record is. They have a lot of talented guys.
"I don't feel like this is going to be an abnormal week coming up for us."