2017-11-25 20:05:02
Auburn 26, Alabama 14: Auburn Upsets No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl

20:05, November 25 339 0

AUBURN, Ala. — Alabama’s run defense entered Saturday’s Iron Bowl ranked No. 2 in the country, and it generally held up its end of the bargain, limiting Auburn’s robust ground attack to 168 yards on 49 carries. Auburn was most successful on scrambles by its sophomore quarterback, Jarrett Stidham, a slightly slower version of Cam Newton taking over games on the Tigers’ behalf in 2010.

As for Alabama’s third-ranked pass defense, Auburn tore it apart, with Stidham beginning at 12 for 14 with 115 yards in the first quarter and finishing at 21 for 28 for 237 yards.

The result was a 26-14 upset victory for the No. 6 Tigers (10-2), placing them in the Southeastern Conference championship game next weekend and a win away from the College Football Playoff. In the conference title game, Auburn will face No. 7 Georgia (11-1) — a team it beat here, 40-17, just a couple of weeks ago.

No. 1 Alabama dropped to 11-1 and will wait anxiously in Tuscaloosa next Sunday to see if the playoff selection committee and assorted upsets combine to grant the Crimson Tide their fourth straight appearance in the playoff. Probably not.

Jalen Hurts, Alabama’s sophomore quarterback, was besieged by rushers and also harassed by the eagle-like screeches of the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd. He was 13 for 23 for 177 yards with one touchdown; he seemed to be flushed out of the pocket and forced to throw out of bounds a dozen times.

At a certain point, it got embarrassing. In the fourth quarter, down 26-14, Alabama fumbled a third-down snap — and then fumbled another one on fourth down. Alabama’s offense was only 3 for 11 on third down.

Alabama seemed different at the beginning of the second half, when it put together one great drive — a screen pass and four rushes for 79 yards and a touchdown — and went up, 14-10. It never enjoyed the lead again.

The Tigers ran a hurry-up offense. Rarely did Stidham throw without first faking a handoff, or hand off without faking a throw. Their first touchdown came on a characteristically nifty play, with Stidham faking a handoff, taking a couple of steps forward and leaping to throw a bunny to the sophomore Nate Craig-Myers. In the fourth quarter, Stidham threw a 25-yard completion off a pitch from running back Kerryon Johnson, who had taken the direct snap, and two plays later scrambled 16 yards for a touchdown.

Johnson, a junior, netted 104 yards on 30 carries. Ryan Davis led Auburn with 11 receptions for 139 yards.

Alabama entered the 82nd Iron Bowl superficially looking like the dominant team it had been in November of every season for the past decade.

But there was cause for concern. Hurts made fewer mistakes than he did in his rookie season, but the offense still depended on his legs. The defense, which suffered several injuries, was typically stout but not as opportunistic as usual: While Alabama had 10 non-offensive touchdowns (defense and special teams) in the 2015 season and an almost unthinkable 15 in the 2016 season, it entered Saturday with only one.

And Alabama’s undefeated record before Saturday may have required a grading curve. When Sunday’s Associated Press poll comes out, Auburn is likely to be just the second ranked opponent Alabama has faced. To turn a familiar taunt against the Tide: Alabama has not really played anybody.