Upon Further Review: Auburn 48, Alabama 45

Alabama Athletics

Christopher Walsh

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama fans may want to start referring to this game as the Iron Bowl that got away.

But first a look at the big picture.

With the 48-45 loss, Alabama appears to have at least three bowl possibilities.

If LSU defeats Georgia in the SEC Championship Game the Bulldogs would almost certainly go to the Sugar Bowl, with Alabama heading to the Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl or the Citrus Bowl. The destination would be determined by the College Football Playoff selection committee, so it’ll be important to note if Alabama or Florida is ranked higher Tuesday night.

Note: Alabama having played in the Orange Bowl last year probably won’t deter a return trip as that was a CFP semifinal plus the opponent will be an ACC team like Virginia that will probably have a difficult time selling its ticket allotment.

If Georgia beats LSU, either Florida or Alabama would go to the Sugar Bowl. 

The other important factor to consider is the upcoming NFL draft, and Alabama could potentially have numerous players declare early.

Seniors who will be playing their last game (assuming they don’t sit out) include, in alphabetical order: Shyheim Carter, Raekwon Davis, Trevon Diggs, Jaren Mayden, Anfernee Jennings and Matt Womack.

Redshirt junior Terrell Lewis participated in Alabama’s Senior Day ceremony and is expected to go pro.

The question is who might join him between Deonte Brown, Landon Dickerson, Najee Harris, Jerry Jeudy, Alex Leatherwood, Xavier McKinney, Tua Tagovailoa, Brian Robinson Jr., Henry Ruggs III and Jedrick Wills Jr.

Nick Saban encourages players to leave early (and still get their degrees) if they’re projected to be selected in the first round. However, not everyone follows that advice and some have obviously seen their draft stock drop some this season.

Look for some interesting announcements over the next few weeks.

Player of the game: Jaylen Waddle. The sophomore wide receiver scored more points than any team Auburn faced this season. He had a career-high three receiving touchdowns to go with a 98-yard kick return for a touchdown. Overall, he had 230 total yards.

Play of the game: Waddle’s kick return for a touchdown was just the third kick return of his career.

Statistic of the game: Alabama’s offense out-gained Auburn 274-141 in the second half, including 197-28 in the air. The Tigers’ longest completion was just 10 yards, on a screen pass.

You will generally notice a theme, that a lot of Alabama’s biggest gaffes came when someone other than an expected starter this season was involved.

Here are 15 things you may not have noticed:

1] Alabama had seven penalties in the fourth quarter, the most of any Saban-coached Crimson Tide team. They included five false starts, a very questionable roughing-the-quarterback call on freshman linebacker Shane Lee and the substitution infraction at the end.

2] For Crimson Tide fans playing the what-if game, consider the holding call on Leatherwood that nullified a 37-yard touchdown by Ruggs on Alabama’s first possession.

3] Although fans will point to the last-second field goal miss and substitution infraction, both of which followed the letter of the rulebook, the feeling here is the most questionable call by officials occurred when Auburn’s Seth Williams wasn’t ejected for giving McKinney a hard shot to the face. The Tigers were already extremely shorthanded at wide receiver and losing him would have changed the dynamic of the game. He ended up making a key third-down reception on Auburn’s final touchdown drive.

4] Speaking of Auburn’s final touchdown, Lewis appeared to suffer a stinger on the drive and was replaced by Chris Allen. Freshman Christian Harris (ankle) missed the entire series. Sophomore Ale Kaho went in, but on the final possession Alabama opted for sophomore Jaylen Moody.

5] Kaho was at fullback on the play resulting in the 100-yard pick six. When he didn’t pick up the blitz (and we’re going to assume that was part of his responsibilities), redshirt sophomore quarterback Mac Jones threw the ball earlier than expected, resulting in it bouncing off Najee Harris’ back.

6] So why didn’t Alabama try and run on the play that resulted in a 100-yard pick-six? The guess here is because it was the sixth play inside the 10 and Auburn had stuffed the previous three carries, resulting in a total of three yards. The ball was at the 2-yard, which took out a dive attempt and the Tigers had the box loaded.

Najee Harris scores a touchdown against Auburn
Najee Harris finished with 146 rushing yards on 27 carries, and 172 all-purpose yardsAlabama Athletics

7] Jones showed some serious grit in the game. He got drilled on two of his touchdown throws and only took on defensive lineman Derrick Brown and safety Daniel Thomas while running for an early first down on third-and-10. That’s the kind of thing teammates will rally around.

8] Auburn’s lone sack was by safety Smoke Monday on a blitz in which freshman left guard Evan Neal couldn’t get over in time to pick him up. Auburn’s prized defensive line managed no sacks, 3½ tackles for a loss (all by Brown), two hurries and one pass broken up. The defensive lineman who had the most tackles in the game was Alabama’s Davis with eight.

9] The two players who bit on the fake on Nix’s touchdown run were both true freshmen, Christian Harris and defensive lineman Byron Young.

10] Three important things led to the first pick-six. On the kick return Kaho went down to the ground after missing his initial block, and after an Auburn player was blocked into him he got up and made the hit that resulted in a block-to-the-back penalty. On first down Wills’ helmet came off and he had to leave the field for a play. Womack was inserted at right tackle and the result was a 2-yard loss. On-third-and-8, Jones tried to make something happen and made a bad throw.

11] Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Tyrell Shavers had the initial missed tackle on the 37-yard punt return that set up Auburn’s first touchdown. He came back and made a key block on Waddle’s kick return for a touchdown.

12] Why was Alabama so confident it could score with just a minute left on the clock at the end of the game? Because it did exactly that at the end of the first half.

13] Alabama fans should have started looking for the Auburn fan who found a genie in a bottle during the Tigers’ second touchdown drive, which may have been the most important possession of the game. With Alabama bouncing back from the first pick-six and taking a 24-17 lead, Auburn had a one-handed reception for a 37-yard gain by Williams, an 11-yard catch of a ball Nix appeared to be trying to throw away, and the 14-yard fingertip touchdown by Sal Cannella — although the tight end braced his arm against sophomore cornerback Patrick Surtain II, which could have been ruled pass interference (something similar was called against Alabama earlier in the game). On all three plays the Crimson Tide had tight coverage.

14] When McKinney had his helmet knocked off on the final touchdown, freshman DeMarcco Hellams took his place and did not know where to line up on the successful two-point conversion.

15] Something to note, Alabama only had two passes thrown to someone behind the line of scrimmage, one of which was a shovel toss, and attempted none in the second half. Yet, by our count, the Crimson Tide still had 197 yards after the catch.