While the story of this Alabama season will be written by what happens next month, the 2018 Crimson Tide has already accomplished something very few teams do — something even more rare than a national championship in Tuscaloosa. The No. 1 Tide handled Auburn 52-21 on Saturday evening, completing just the fourth perfect regular season of the highly successful Nick Saban era of Alabama football.
Alabama (12-0, 8-0 SEC) will head to Atlanta to face No. 5 Georgia in what is essentially a College Football Playoff quarterfinal game. Saban’s first two unbeaten teams, in 2008 and ’09, headed to Atlanta with similar stakes. The 2008 team lost to No. 2 Florida, who went on to win that season’s national title; the ’09 team upended the No. 1 Gators en route to the first of five (and counting) national titles under Saban. This time, of course, it’ll be Georgia looking for vengeance after losing the 2017 CFP National Championship on the same field they’ll play on next Saturday.
But to play a game with such stakes, Alabama first had to win this one.
Alabama led this one throughout, though it did get dicey just before halftime. Leading 17-7, Alabama had just suffered its first three-and-out when a group of Tigers broke through to block Mike Bernier‘s punt, which Auburn’s Jamien Sherwood recovered at the Alabama 23-yard line. Two plays later, Ryan Davis completed a throwback pass to wide-open running back Malik Miller, pulling the visitors within 17-14 at the break.
Facing their first close game of the season, Alabama accepted the ball to open the second half and immediately erased any drama. Tua Tagovailoa hit Jerry Jeudy for a 46-yard touchdown pass to put the Tide up 10, then essentially ended the game with a 33-yard strike to Josh Jacobs, stretching the Alabama lead to 31-14 just over five minutes into the second half.
Auburn pulled back within 10 when Darius Slayton scored a 52-yard snatch-and-dash touchdown, but Alabama answered with a 3-play, 75-yard touchdown drive culminating in a 40-yard Devonta Smith touchdown catch.
Tagovailoa ended his day at the 14:27 mark of the fourth quarter, firing a 22-yard scoring strike to Henry Ruggs III that saw the Heisman front-runner polish his resume by going 25-of-32 for 324 yards and five touchdowns with another 26 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Jalen Hurts entered the game on Alabama’s next drive and immediately fired a 53-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle.
Jarrett Stidham played nearly the entire game and battled throughout, hitting 13-of-30 passes for 127 yards with a touchdown and an interception while taking numerous shots.
The win moved Alabama to 8-4 in the Iron Bowl in the Saban era and dropped Auburn, a preseason top-10 team, to 7-5 overall and 3-5 in SEC play.