Rapid Reaction: Slow start, fast finish as No. 1 Alabama rocks Auburn in Iron Bowl
Alabama’s B performance is pretty good too.
Whether you’re an Alabama fan, player or head ball coach, that was the primary takeaway after the sluggish Tide put away Auburn 52-21 Saturday at Bryant-Denny behind a career night from Tua Tagovailoa capped by a heartfelt assist from Jalen Hurts.
On a weekend that saw two Playoff hopefuls lose, Alabama won again. Most Playoff hopefuls would be thrilled to pound their rival by 30, but Alabama is always graded on a different curve.
And as the microscope lens zooms in, flaws begin to emerge, whether they’re real or invented.
No, the Tide weren’t anthem-to-handshake dominant Saturday, especially early. Not by their 2018 standards, anyway. Tagovailoa finished with a career-high 5 TD passes, but for one half, he was more effective than spectacular. The big plays were missing. The kicking game woes resurfaced.
In the first half, Alabama completed one pass longer than 13 yards. Strange, indeed, considering the Tide entered the game with 5 receiving targets averaging north of 18 yards per catch.
Credit Auburn, with sticky man-to-man coverage and well disguised blitzes, for disrupting the Tide’s passing attack and shrinking running lanes.
But understand, too, that Auburn never led and needed a blocked punt and trick play touchdown to go into halftime trailing only 17-14.
Understand further that such good fortune rarely lasts.
And it didn’t last long.
The naysayers barely had time to complete their “Alabama is overrated” tweets before second-half Alabama showed up, irritated at how first-half Alabama performed.
The Tide opened the third quarter looking more like the No. 1 team and most prolific offense in the country. And Tagovailoa looked every bit like the Heisman Trophy favorite he is. Four of his career-high 5 TD passes came after the break as the Tide topped 50 for the eighth time.
After a series of short runs and throws pushed the Tide into Auburn territory, Tagovailoa finally connected with Jerry Jeudy on a 46-yard touchdown to make it 24-14. It was Jeudy’s 11th TD catch this season, tying Amari Cooper for second in program history. It was Tagovailoa’s second TD pass, extending his program record to 33.
The next time Tagovailoa touched it, he hit Josh Jacobs on a 33-yard touchdown pass.
Two possessions. Two explosive plays. Two long touchdown passes. Just like that, the 3-point margin grew to 17.
Auburn pulled within 10 when Darius Slayton caught a 52-yard TD pass from Jarrett Stidham, but Alabama answered that challenge as well.
Tagovailoa found DeVonta Smith on a crossing route. Smith shook off one tackle and jogged in to complete a 40-yard touchdown to make it 38-21.
That was Tagovailoa’s 4th TD pass — tying his career high and equaling the most by a Tide QB in the Iron Bowl.
His 5th TD pass — aided by Henry Ruggs’ spectacular one-handed catch in traffic — set a personal high, broke the school record for most in the Iron Bowl and matched Gary Hollingsworth’s school record for most in any game.
It also was his first TD pass in the fourth quarter this season. That ended his night: 25-for-32, 324 yards, 5 TDs. Or, put another way: Tagovailoa threw 2 more incompletions than TD passes.
Hurts came on, perhaps playing in his final home game. His first pass hit Jaylen Waddle for a 53-yard TD. Bryant-Denny rocked in approval and appreciation, the ideal ending.
Slow start. Sizzling finish.
Georgia, you’re next.