Recap | Sark leads a Saban-less team to victory over Auburn

An outplayed Auburn team managed only 13 points to Alabama’s 42 in this Bryant-Denny-hosted Iron Bowl.


For junior quarterback Mac Jones, the Iron Bowl could be the centerpiece of his Heisman campaign. Photo courtesy of Alabama Athletics

Senior night at Bryant-Denny Stadium ended with glory and ease for Alabama. The Crimson Tide topped Auburn 42-13 in the 85th Iron Bowl, marking win No. 47 for Alabama in the infamous rivalry.

Nick Saban couldn’t coach this game, as he tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. Though Saban was barred from coaching at home, he watched the game and still gave his post-game press conference after the teams retreated to the locker rooms.

“This is a great win. I’m really proud of the players and coaches,” Saban said. “I think the energy was good, the offense made a lot of explosive plays and the defense played really well.”

The Alabama offense had no problem disposing of a lackluster Auburn defense. In the first half, junior quarterback Mac Jones was able to carve up the Tiger’s secondary and score three touchdowns through the air.

The most notable throw came on the second drive, when Jones found a wide-open DeVonta Smith for a 66-yard touchdown. In the first half alone, senior wide receiver Smith made another great addition to his career stat line, adding 104 yards and another touchdown to his record-breaking numbers.

Jones said that the deep throw to Smith in the first half was all instinct. 

“It was just a good call. We just double moved, I couldn’t really think about anything but just throwing it to Smith,” Jones said. “[Credit] to the offensive line and running back for giving me the time to make that throw.”

Smith passed Amari Cooper for the most touchdowns (33) last week and extended his lead. He now only trails Cooper by 280 for the most yards in Alabama school history.

The second half was more of the same for Jones and the Alabama offense. Smith and Jones connected again in the third quarter for a 58-yard score. This was a commanding answer to an Auburn field goal and ultimately put any chance of a Tiger comeback away. Smith finished his last game in Bryant Denny Stadium with a total of 171 receiving yards and two touchdowns. 

Tonight was senior night, and after the game, Saban did not sell this class of seniors short. 

“This is one of the best classes of people we’ve ever had,” Saban said. “Lots of character, they’ve inspired all of the guys on the team, and I’m sure they will go on to have success in life and be great ambassadors for the University of Alabama.”

Smith was one of the 17 seniors celebrated Saturday night. However, he said that he didn’t focus on senior night until after the game was finally over. 

“Honestly, it didn’t hit me until after the game,” Smith said. “After the game, all the seniors went on the field and took a picture, and then it hit me that this is my last game at Bryant Denny.”

Jones was the headliner of the game. His feel of the game looked smooth and precise from the first quarter to the fourth. Jones was able to keep a near-perfect quarterback rating (230.3) and passed for 302 yards and five touchdowns. 

Jones is in the top five in the Heisman race, and tonight was absolutely his “Heisman Moment.” Every Heisman winner has been defined by one stand-out play or game, and the Iron Bowl was statistically Jones’ best game of the season, as well as a huge win in a competitive rivalry game.

The game finally fell out of reach for the Tigers near the end of the third quarter, when senior running back Najee Harris scored on a 39-yard rush. Harris made a sharp cut to the outside on an inside run and the Auburn defense was outclassed. From there on out, both teams looked to run the clock out.

Wide receiver is Auburn’s talent-richest position, and the Alabama defensive back unit shut it down the entire game. Defensive backs like junior Daniel Wright, freshman Malachi Moore and junior Patrick Surtain put on a clinic throughout the game and only allowed Auburn’s top two receivers, Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams, a combined 77 yards, though Auburn quarterback Bo Nix passed the ball 38 times.

Nix was overwhelmed by the Alabama pass rush for most of the night. He ended up getting sacked three times, but it seemed like every other pass play, Nix was scrambling to stay out of the way of would-be tacklers. Nix ended up throwing two interceptions on the night.

Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding simplified the style of the defense after Alabama allowed 48 points to a (3-4) Ole Miss team. Since that disappointing show, Golding and the Alabama defense are only giving up 11.4 points per game, which ranks third among Division I FBS schools. 

Junior defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis said that the defense finally started to click after the Ole Miss game.

“I can’t really tell you [why we started playing better], but I guess we’re just doing our job up front,” Mathis said. “Whatever coach tells us from the sideline, we’re just doing our job.”

Saban complimented the play of the defense which has been a recurring theme throughout the season.

“I think that our entire defense has improved and gelled as a unit,” Saban said. “I think we use more players which I think enhances everyone’s opportunities to contribute. We got some good breaks, like the one where the guy dropped the ball when he was twenty yards behind. For the most part, we did a really good job, but there are a lot of mental errors.”

Alabama capitalized on its talent advantage near the end of the first half when Auburn was running a two-minute drill. Moore managed to step in front of a pass outside to the sideline from Auburn quarterback Bo Nix and intercept it. With just one move, Moore prevented the Tigers from scoring in the waning minutes of the first half and took away all of Auburn’s offensive momentum for the rest of the game. Saban said that Moore is one of the rare players that learn every play as the season goes on.

“I think early in the season, we saw a lot of stuff,” Saban said. “[The young players] saw… everything you could see from a formation or adjustment. I think Malachi [Moore] is the kind of guy that makes a mistake and learns from it and doesn’t do it again.”

Like almost every Iron Bowl since Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was hired, Auburn tried different gimmick plays on offense. Screenplays and reverses play an instrumental role in Auburn’s offensive success, but it can also lead to their downfall. In today’s matchup, Alabama was well prepared to eliminate the outside throws and run from Auburn, which caused the Tiger’s offense to stall out for most of the game. 

Once the fourth quarter began, the game was all but officially over. Alabama scored again at the beginning of the quarter and then the two teams traded possession of the ball. There was a late score by Auburn quarterback Bo Nix, but Alabama made quick work of any potential Auburn comeback throughout the night. 

The Crimson Tide move on to prepare for a postponed game against LSU that was rescheduled to next week. The Arkansas game has been moved back to Dec. 12. Though LSU won last year’s matchup, Alabama won the previous eight games and will travel to Baton Rouge next week.

Sophomore linebacker Christian Harris, a Louisiana native, said that he’s excited for good food and a battle in Death Valley, but that continuing to play SEC teams is taking a toll on the team’s bodies. 

“[The season] is a little different,” Harris said. “It’s a lot tougher on the body with an all-SEC schedule. We have to play LSU, then Arkansas. We just have to do what we can and take it one game at a time.”