Rapid Reaction: Auburn ends Alabama's perfect season, captures West and pads Playoff resume
Anybody questioning Auburn’s Playoff resume now?
Jarrett Stidham, who came to Auburn to beat Alabama, did exactly that Saturday, cementing the Tigers’ Playoff drive with a signature victory over the No. 1-ranked Tide, 26-14. It was as dramatic as it was emphatic.
And Stidham had help. Plenty of it.
Kerryon Johnson, who didn’t play in the Tigers’ one-score loss at Clemson, was a force all afternoon on The Plains, until he was helped off the field with a right arm injury late in the fourth quarter, leaving Auburn fans to sweat out the longest six minutes of the year.
Johnson ran for more than 100 yards. He scored one touchdown and threw for another as Auburn beat a No. 1-ranked team for the second time in three games.
It was Auburn’s first victory in the Iron Bowl since Kick-Six in 2013, and just like then, it clinched the SEC West and spot in the SEC Championship Game.
It was an epic performance from a team counted out after its loss at LSU.
Johnson made his presence felt early.
Johnson, whose rushing and receiving helped move the Tigers from their 5, lined up in the Wildcat. He took the direct snap and ran toward the line before lofting a Tebow jump pass to Nate Craig-Myers. The 3-yard toss capped a 95-yard touchdown drive, the longest scoring drive Alabama has allowed this season.
Alabama hasn’t trailed often this season, but on those rare occasions, it typically has erased such deficits immediately. Not Saturday. This time, Jalen Hurts fumbled, which guaranteed the Tide would trail for multiple possessions for the second time this season.
The hole could have been bigger. Three Stidham completions pushed the ball inside the Tide’s 10. But on 3rd-and-goal from Alabama’s 4, Stidham fumbled a shot-gun snap. Rather than falling on it, and likely setting up a chip shot field goal, he tried to keep the play alive.
He reached. Alabama recovered.
What could have been a 14-0 first-quarter lead suddenly was a ballgame again.
After a pair of punts, Alabama finally struck. On first down at Auburn’s 36, Hurts faked a designed run, backed up and launched a 50-50 ball in the direction of freshman Jerry Jeudy. Locked up in man coverage, Jeudy freed himself from Jeremiah Dinson to haul in the game-tying touchdown.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 25, 2017
Daniel Carlson closed the half with a 33-yard field goal to put Auburn back on top 10-7.
That lead didn’t last nearly as long.
Alabama took the opening kick and marched 79 yards in five plays. The final four plays were runs: Damien Harris for 31 yards, Harris for 1, Bo Scarbrough for 14 and finally Scarbrough again for 21 yards.
In four plays, Alabama ran for 67 yards, nearly matching its first-half output (77).
It was as quintessential Alabama as Alabama could possibly look and it gave the Tide their first lead, 14-10.
But Auburn proved its Playoff mettle, reeling off 10 points on consecutive possessions to take a 20-14 lead late in the third quarter.
The Tigers leaned on their stars, too, Johnson and Stidham. The key play in their go-ahead drive was Stidham’s 25-yard completion to Ryan Davis, which converted a 3rd-and-5 that started at Auburn’s 36. Stidham later converted a 3rd-and-7 with a designed run for 9 yards. Johnson finished the 69-yard drive with a tough, 1-yard run.
And so it went, Alabama answering Auburn, Auburn answering Alabama.
Seemingly every drive included a play that, depending on how the game turned out, could have been the reason.
Alabama’s ensuing drive certainly had one. Unable to convert a third down all afternoon, Hurts scrambled on a 3rd-and-9 from Auburn’s 17 and lofted a ball toward Calvin Ridley in the end zone. Ridley was double teamed. The ball was tipped. Hale Hentges dived and came within an inch of making a spectacular touchdown catch.
In fact, officials ruled it a touchdown, but it was overruled on review.
NO CATCH pic.twitter.com/xMHeZOiVLq
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) November 25, 2017
Forced to attempt a field goal, Alabama mishandled the snap. What could have been seven points and an Alabama lead resulted in no points and more momentum for Auburn.
The roar only grew louder after Stidham capped a 74-yard drive by racing 16 yards for a touchdown to extend Auburn’s lead to 26-14.
For two years, Alabama had counted on Hurts to bail them out. For the better part of two years, he delivered.
Saturday, he and the Tide came up short, done in by mistakes and outplayed by the Baylor transfer who delivered on his promise to turn Auburn into a championship contender.
Now, Stidham is one step from making that dream a possibility.