For just the second time ever, the Iron Bowl between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Auburn served as the de facto SEC West title game. Just like its predecessor, it resulted in the Tigers defending their home turf by upsetting the No. 1 Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham threw for 237 yards, while running back Kerryon Johnson added for 104 yards on the ground and both rushed and threw a touchdown in a 26-14 win on Saturday afternoon. The victory moves Auburn to 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the SEC, while the Crimson Tide fell to 11-1 and 7-1 in the SEC. The Tigers will move on to play Georgia in the SEC Championship Game next weekend at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
What did we learn from an Iron Bowl for the ages?
1. Gus Malzahn has proven that he's a big-game coach: Following two losses during the first two months of the season to Clemson and LSU that can directly be tied to suspect play-calling and philosophy from Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, he's has proven over the final month of the season that he has evolved into a star.
The Tigers were aggressive in the destruction of Georgia two weeks ago, and had a similar style early against Alabama. Stidham was 12-for-14 in a first quarter that was highlighted by first-down passes and creative play-calling that had the Crimson Tide defense on its heels from the moment the game started. That fast start included a jump pass from Johnson to receiver Nate Craig-Myers for the game's first touchdown.
After the Crimson Tide took a one-point lead, Malzahn and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey orchestrated a beautiful 12-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that included a slant -- something Auburn hasn't done much this year -- on third-and-5 that went for 25 yards, a designed quarterback draw that went for nine yards on third-and-7 and culminated with Johnson's rushing touchdown.
When Auburn needed big plays, it didn't just turn to its big-time players Johnson and Stidham, it turned to its coaching staff. That not only earned the Tigers the SEC West title, but put Malzahn further into the good graces of fan base that was ready for him to hit the road a month ago.
Moving forward to the SEC Championship Game and beyond, that's a great sign for an Auburn team that has more momentum than any team in the sport right now.
2. Auburn's defense remains a force: Remember when Auburn's defense used to be a joke? It's not anymore. Since Kevin Steele arrived as the defensive coordinator prior to last year, it has been anything but a joke.
The Tigers dominated quarterback Jalen Hurts and the Crimson Tide offense on Saturday afternoon, consistently winning first downs and putting the Tide in tough spots. As a result, the Tide converted just three of their 11 third downs and all three of those occurred in the fourth quarter.
Jeff Holland is a monster off the edge. Marlon Davidson, Dontavius Russell, and Co. inside are beasts and Nick Coe came up with a huge sack on Hurts in the fourth quarter with the Tigers up two scores.
No matter what the situation, the defense consistently brings it. It'll have to bring it inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium one more time if Auburn is going to get to the promised land.
3. This was one of Alabama's sloppiest games under Saban: Alabama typically plays smart, doesn't lose its cool and is unaffected by raucous road environments.
Whether it was the crowd, the stakes or simple lack of preparation, the Crimson Tide was a rattled mess on Saturday afternoon on The Plains.
The Tide had back-to-back botched snaps (one of which was negated by a review that showed Auburn had a 12th player running off the field despite three Tide players also being in motion) that killed a drive in the fourth quarter. They jumped offsides on a punt that gave Auburn a first down in the final frame. Rashaan Evans got a 15-yard penalty for pulling Stidham's helmet off in the first quarter and coach Nick Saban's crew committed a total of eight penalties in the loss.
This isn't meant to negate what Auburn did. Auburn flat out dominated the Iron Bowl. But Alabama did its part to make sure that domination sustained itself for a full four quarters.
4. Auburn has a running back problem: Johnson went out in the fourth quarter Kamryn Pettway -- a 1,000-yard rusher from last year -- the Tigers could be without their top two options at running back against the Bulldogs. Pettway has missed the last four games with a shoulder injury of his own.that he sustained one play before his third quarter touchdown run. Combined with
To make matters worse, electric back Kam Martin went down with an ankle injury late in the fourth quarter.
If Johnson can't go, it'd be a huge blow for a Tigers team under normal circumstances. After all, you never want to lose your Heisman Trophy contender before the biggest game of the year. But the stunning lack of depth at a position that is of massive importance for a team that is founded on establishing the run could be a huge factor in the SEC Championship Game matchup vs. Georgia.
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