AUBURN, Ala. — As the leaders of the University of Alabama football team met with reporters in the hallway outside of their locker room at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the scene behind them with their teammates in the parking lot told the story.
There were tears, disbelieving faces and consoling hugs from friends and family. Senior safety Hootie Jones got into an ambulance after sustaining an apparent left knee injury, while the rest of the Crimson Tide slowly boarded the team buses.
Mostly, no one knew how to act. The No. 1 Crimson Tide had rattled off 11 straight victories before seeing their season derailed, 26-14. Only three players on the roster had ever experienced a loss by more than seven points, dating back to the end of the 2013 season, the 45-31 defeat to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
This was all new to them. After three straight years of going to the SEC Championship Game, and winning in decisive fashion, the Crimson Tide have to wait and hope to back into the College Football Playoff.
“We didn’t execute,” said sophomore Jalen Hurts, who took just his second career loss as a starter.
As unusual as the situation was, so was how the Crimson Tide played against their biggest rival. They had mistakes galore and players looking like they had never been in a big game before, while No. 6 Auburn gave it everything it had.
Perhaps the perfect example of how uncharacteristically Alabama played came with about 10 minutes remaining when it didn’t just have one bad snap, but two, on third and fourth down with the game on the line. Those might have been the offense’s first bad snaps of the season.
“We were going clap,” Saban explained about the silent count. “Bo [Scarbrough] said he heard someone clap, whether it was one of their players or one of our players, I’m not accusing anybody of anything.
“The second time, Bo clapped to try and get the line’s attention to find out who the Mike [middle linebacker] was. We weren’t even set on the play. I thought they should have called illegal procedure on us.”
Instead, Alabama got a second chance when Auburn was flagged for having too many men on the field. On fourth-and-4, Hurts found senior wide receiver Robert Foster who instead of doing everything he could to get the first down went for more and was subsequently dropped after 3 yards.
“There’s no excuse when that happens,” senior center Bradley Bozeman said about the snaps.
But it was that kind of night all around.
Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham was 21 for 28 for 237 yards and only sacked once despite facing constant pressure. He had 12 completions in the first quarter alone, which no opponent had previously done during the Saban era at Alabama.
Running back Kerryon Johnson had 104 rushing yards on 30 carries before leaving with a shoulder injury. He also threw a 3-yard jump pass for a touchdown out of the wildcat, to cap a 12-play, 95-yard drive after Alabama elected not to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Auburn 48 in the first quarter.
Coming in, Alabama had converted every fourth-down opportunity this season.
But the statistic that best demonstrated the difference between the teams was third-down conversions.
Alabama was just 3 for 11, while Auburn was 9 of 18. The Tigers were clutch when it mattered, and the Crimson Tide were not.
“For us, we just needed to get off the field on third down,” senior linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “We didn’t do a good job of that.”
Third down-and-eight for Alabama, and OH MY GOD MY EARS ARE BLEEDING IT'S SO LOUD
— WarEagleExtra (@wareagleextra) November 25, 2017
“We weren’t very good,” said Saban, and he meant both sides of the ball.
The only time Alabama had the lead was at the start of the second half, when after the Crimson Tide had just 5 carries by their running backs in the first half, carved up the Tigers with a 79-yard drive capped by junior Bo Scarbrough’s 21-yard touchdown.
“We came out with a little fire, a little intensity, right out of halftime and had a great drive,” Saban said. “We just couldn’t sustain it.”
Only that was it for the Crimson Tide. The next time they got close to scoring, holder JK Scott had the ball slip out of his hand on a field-goal attempt. He had the presence of mind to throw a pass, but the swarming Tigers snuffed it, and the Crimson Tide, out.
Next up for Auburn, a rematch with Georgia in Atlanta next Saturday, while Alabama waits and hopes.
“I don’t know,” said junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, when asked how he’ll spend this upcoming week. “We’re not used to this.”