There are rivalry games… and then there’s the Iron Bowl.
The biggest game in the SEC nearly every regular season lived up to the billing once again with a thrilling, back-and-forth battle between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Auburn for three and a half quarters that resulted in a 26-14 upset win for the Tigers at home to seize control of the SEC West title, the conference as a whole and likely the race for a spot in the Sugar Bowl for the College Football Playoff.
The difference on the Plains for the home team was undoubtedly quarterback Jarrett Stidham. The transfer by way of Baylor and a junior college that many expected to lead Gus Malzahn’s offense to a storybook season was terrific on the biggest stage in the sport once again in leading Auburn to their second win over a No. 1 team in three weeks. The dual-threat threw for 237 yards with pinpoint accuracy against that feisty Tide secondary and really made a difference with his legs, scrambling out of several sacks and rushing for 51 yards and a score. Stidham formed a tough one-two punch in the backfield with Kerryon Johnson (106 yards, one touchdown rushing), who churned out tough carries and recorded the first points of the game by way of a perfectly executed jump pass.
However there’s also some concern for Auburn over the status of their star tailback as Johnson pulled up lame on a play late in the fourth quarter and could miss the SEC title game and possibly more. He injured his shoulder earlier in the game on a diving run toward the pylon and appeared to be favoring it as he made his way to the injury tent.
While the effort was one of the best of the year for the Tigers, the same could not be said for their opponents from Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban’s side was uncharacteristically undisciplined between penalties, bad snaps and some awful numbers on third down (3-of-11). Quarterback Jalen Hurts lost a fumble but was otherwise the only source of offense for Alabama, throwing for 112 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another 82.
However there wasn’t any magic left in the team as the Tide lost for the first time in the regular season since September of 2015.
The result also shakes up the College Football Playoff standings and presumably puts a number of different scenarios in play for the SEC possibly placing two teams in the final four. At the very least the conference itself will secure one bid as Georgia and Auburn meet again, this time in Atlanta, for the conference championship next Saturday and a likely trip to the Sugar Bowl semifinal.
Folks on the Plains will turn their attention toward the rematch tomorrow however, as the rest of Saturday night will be left to celebrate another win over a No. 1 team and their hated rivals to the West.