In the first half of Saturday’s Iron Bowl, it appeared that Auburn had a chance to upset archrival Alabama. Both teams could only muster field goals, as the heavily-favored Crimson Tide took a 12-6 lead into halftime.
Then the No. 2 Crimson Tide dominated the second half.
Auburn’s offense was dormant, outside of a spectacular self-tipped touchdown catch by wide receiver Jason Smith, and Alabama running back Derrick Henry finished off a historic regular season in a 29-13 defeat of the Tigers.
Here is the Auburn report card:
The same issues that have plagued Auburn’s offense during a rocky regular season came back to haunt the Tigers on Saturday.
Auburn reached Alabama territory three times in the first half. The result? Two field goals and a missed field goal. The Tigers had to make the most of its offensive drives against a stingy Alabama defense, and they could not capitalize in the first half.
Those same opportunities did not arise in the final 30 minutes.
Alabama held Auburn to just 114 total yards in the second half, 77 of which came on Smith’s miraculous touchdown catch. Without that catch, the Tigers may have been held scoreless. Auburn finished with only 260 yards of total offense.
After rushing for 90 yards in the initial half, Auburn ran the ball just 8 times for one yard in the final two quarters. Alabama began to bring an extra defender in the box in the second half, “daring” Auburn to throw, as Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said after the game.
The inconsistent play of Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson surfaced again. Outside of Smith’s catch, Johnson was unable to connect with his receivers for meaningful gains. He finished completing 10-of-23 passes for 169 yards and one touchdown. He was also sacked three times, as the Alabama front seven put pressure on Johnson all game long.
The offensive inconsistency was a feeling Auburn has become all too familiar with this season.
With Auburn’s offense sputtering in the second half, Alabama finished the game with a decisive advantage in time of possession. The Crimson Tide held the ball for just under 22 minutes in the second half, which wore down the Auburn defense.
Alabama finished with 465 yards of total offense, but Auburn did an admirable job of forcing four field goals in the first half. Henry ended up with 279 yards rushing, but it took him a career-high 46 carries to get there.
However, there are a few moments that the Tigers would probably like to have back.
Alabama was able to build separation on its second drive of the third quarter, as quarterback Jacob Coker hit wide receiver Ardarius Stewart on a 34-yard touchdown pass. Twice on that drive, Auburn defenders appeared to have Coker boxed in for a large loss, but he escaped both times. In one instance, he scrambled for a first down and the next Houdini act resulted in the touchdown pass to Stewart for a 19-6 lead.
Auburn senior defensive back Blake Countess also missed an opportunity for a potential pick six, but Coker’s pass hit him in the chest and fell harmlessly to the turf.
“There are a few other plays, five to seven plays within a game that can change the game,” Countess said after the loss. “I had to make that play and I didn’t and that’s on me.”
On this day, the Crimson Tide offense was able to outplay the Auburn defense in the critical moments.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
The first half was a kicking contest between Auburn sophomore kicker Daniel Carlson and Alabama kicker Adam Griffith.
Carlson came into the game with an Auburn-record 14 consecutive field goals made, but the streak ended at 16 when Carlson missed a 48-yard attempt with 1:24 remaining in the second quarter.
The miss allowed Griffith to make his fourth field goal of the half to give the Crimson Tide a 12-6 lead going into the intermission. It was certainly not the best time for Carlson’s streak to end, but he has been reliable for the Tigers all season.
Even if Carlson was perfect on the night, Auburn’s offense did not score enough points to win the game. The special teams unit was not perfect, but blame for this loss should not rest on the shoulder’s of the special teams unit.
It has not been Malzahn’s finest season under the headset. The offense had been one of the most prolific in the country under Malzahn in previous seasons, but this year has been a struggle.
Inconsistent quarterback play definitely hurt Auburn, but the ultimate blame falls on Malzahn. Alabama was loading the box, but it was a questionable decision to only run the ball eight times in the second half.
Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp did a good job of improving the defense as the season wore on. His game plan was successful in the first half, but it was a lot to ask of his defense to compete with a superior Alabama team given the time of possession disparity. Like Malzahn, Muschamp will also have to bolster the defense in recruiting.
Auburn certainly had a chance to pull off an upset on Saturday, but in the end, the same problems from the entire season doomed the Tigers.
A weak offensive performance made it tough for the defense to compete with an Alabama team that will likely end up in the College Football Playoff.
Now, Auburn will await to see who its bowl opponent will be.