In a year where nothing's normal, Alabama's Iron Bowl beatdown seemed oh, so routine
It’s amazing how perception can warp reality sometimes.
We think of the Iron Bowl as an annual anything-goes, throw-everything-out-the-window, Thanksgiving weekend tradition. We remember Chris Davis and the Kick-6 and look at last year’s 48-45 Auburn win that helped make sure Alabama didn’t make the College Football Playoff for the first time.
It’s the matchup that birthed the Crimson Tide nickname, after all.
But maybe those memories skew the picture because they’re anomalies. Because lately, when Bama wins the Iron Bowl, it renders its in-state archrival just another bug on the windshield as it drives toward a national championship.
Even with coach Nick Saban watching alone from his house, even with 19,424 fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium, yes, even in 2020, Saturday was no exception.
The No. 1 Tide’s 42-13 victory over the helpless Tigers means Alabama has won 9 of these nemeses’ past 13 contests. It’s not even the most lopsided in that stretch — that happened in 2012, when the Tide won 49-0 — but it’s up there with the most dominant.
Alabama’s margins of victory during that stretch: 36, 5, 28, 49, 11, 16, 18, 31 and 29.
“The Iron Bowl is something special to the people in the state of Alabama,” Saban said on a postgame Zoom call with reporters. “It’s something special to us as a team. Really proud of our team. This is a great win for us, and I’m absolutely going to tell them about it. We’ll sing the fight song [together], which is something we always do after a win.”
It’s a testament to the machine Saban, who had a positive test this week for COVID-19, has built in Tuscaloosa that he doesn’t even need to be in the building for it to run at peak performance. The best leaders don’t create successful teams; they create environments that breed success, then place the right people in the right places within that ecosystem.
That’s how you get results like Heisman candidate Mac Jones casually throwing for 302 yards and 5 touchdowns, often heading to the sideline to slap exchange high-fives with fill-in head man and offense coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Like holding Auburn to 347 yards of offense and never allowing it to find a rhythm. Like Najee Harris going for 96 yards (8.7 per carry) or DeVonta Smith running circles around the Tigers secondary en route to 7 catches, 171 yards and 2 touchdowns. Like a defense that started the season with all kinds of question marks but has quietly — maybe? — become the SEC’s top scoring defense.
Saban might as well have changed from his suit to sweats, kicked back with the remote and enjoyed some leftover turkey Saturday evening.
“Well, it was difficult [watching from home], but I’m happy with the result, I can tell you that,” Saban said. “Regardless of what I felt like emotionally, this is a great win, great win for our fans, great win for us at Alabama. This is really special.”
It’s now officially a disappointing season for Auburn. Quarterback Bo Nix — 23-for-38, 227 yards and 2 interceptions Saturday — hasn’t taken the steps War Eagle Nation had hoped for. And while sitting at 5-3 with 2 games left on the schedule during a pandemic is nothing to sneeze at, expectations are higher than that at Auburn.
They also include not getting embarrassed by your biggest rival with much of the country watching.
But these teams are on different planes right now. One remains on an apparent collision course with Clemson — which blasted Pittsburgh 52-17 on Saturday to improve to 8-1 — with aspirations for a 6th national title since under Saban.
The other would probably at best hope for a New Year’s Day bowl during a normal year.
And while this season is anything but, Auburn suddenly has a long way to go to close the gap with its Heart of Dixie dance partner.