Two pick-sixes. A kickoff return touchdown. A controversial field goal with 1-second left on the clock. A 48-point quarter that saw 21 points scored in 84 seconds. The 84th Iron Bowl had just about everything, and in the end it had an Auburn victory, as a late missed field goal allowed the No. 15 Tigers to preserve a 48-45 win over No. 5 Alabama, officially knocking the Crimson Tide out of the College Football Playoff for the first time in the 6-year history of the series.
Alabama (10-2, 6-2 SEC) will now enter December out of the national championship picture for just the second time since 2011 — with the other coming in 2013, when Auburn dealt Alabama a death blow with the Kick Six.
Playing without Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
got 335 yards and four touchdowns from Mac Jones, 146 yards and a touchdown from Najee Harris and four lead-changing touchdowns from Jaylen Waddle, but two pick-sixes by Jones and a controversial field goal gave Auburn 17 needed points. Playing in his first Iron Bowl, Bo Nix completed 15-of-30 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown, rushed for 44 yards and a score and, most importantly, played turnover free football.
The game started slowly — an Alabama field goal and three punts in the first four possessions — but then took off to warp speed, starting with a 37-yard Christian Tutt punt return that set Auburn up at the Crimson Tide’s 32-yard line. A 15-yard Boobee Whitlow run and a face mask penalty later, Nix put the Tigers up 7-3 with an untouched 7-yard keeper at the 2:07 mark of the first quarter.
Alabama immediately answered with a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown run capped by a 6-yard Harris run, as the junior running back carried the entire Tide offense while Jones worked his way to game speed (his first 14 passes covered just 40 yards). Harris lead all runners with 94 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
Auburn then tied the game with a 43-yard Anders Carlson field goal, then took the lead when Smoke Monday snared a Jones overthrow and raced 29 yards for a score, putting the Tigers up 17-10 with 5:36 left in the first half. The lead lasted 14 seconds, as Waddle raced the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Then, Whitlow fumbled at his own 37, and 84 seconds after leading 17-10, Auburn trailed 24-17 when Jones found Henry Ruggs III for a 3-yard score at the 4:12 mark of the second quarter.
Stunned to silence after that turn of events, Auburn appeared to be trying to simply run out the final four minutes of the half and lick its wounds at halftime, until Nix hit Seth Williams on a 37-yard heave on 3rd-and-8, taking the ball from his own 38 to Alabama’s 25. Nix then found Will Hastings for an 11-yard gain on a throwaway, and then Sal Canella, using his 6-foot-5 frame to keep his toes in bounds while reaching far out of bounds, snared a game-tying touchdown pass with 1:06 left in the first half.
The Tigers left too much time.
After a 24-yard Diggs kick return and a 4-yard completion to Jerry Jeudy, Waddle did the rest, catching the ball shy of the Auburn 45 and then weaved through the secondary for his second touchdown of the quarter, putting Alabama back ahead 31-24 with 33 seconds left in the first half. Waddle touched the ball four times in the half, and two of them turned into touchdowns totaling 156 yards.
Out of timeouts, Auburn maneuvered from its own 35 to the Alabama 34 when Whitlow was tackled as time expired in the half. But, because Whitlow surged forward until time expired rather than going down with, say, three seconds left in the half, Gus Malzahn demanded a review of the timing. The review worked as a de facto timeout, allowing Auburn to get off a field goal when one second was put back on the clock. History did not repeat itself, as Carlson’s 52-yard field goal sailed through the uprights, not for a 109-yard return the other way.
Carlson’s third field goal, a 43-yarder, pulled Auburn within 31-30, and then the Tigers took their second lead of the day with their second pick six of the day, as Zakoby McClain caught a deflection off Harris’s back and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, putting War Eagle back in front 37-31.
Once again, though, the lead did not last, thanks to Waddle. This time, he hauled in a 12-yard touchdown grab, and Joseph Bulovas‘s extra point lodged the game’s 75th point at the 4:57 mark of the third quarter.
After a pair of punts, Auburn nudged back ahead with a 44-yard Carlson field goal — his fourth of the day — and once again Waddle erased an Alabama deficit, as his 28-yard touchdown grab completed a 6-play, 90-yard drive that saw the Crimson Tide take a 45-40 lead with 13:44 left in the game.
Malzahn then leaned on Whitlow and Nix’s legs to slice through a tired Alabama defense, and Shaun Shivers surged Auburn back in front with an emphatic 11-yard end-around on 3rd-and-5. Nix’s pass to Shedrick Jackson gave Auburn its fourth lead, 48-45, with 8:08 to play.
Faced with a 4th-and-7 at the Auburn 37 with 5:13 to go, Nick Saban kept his offense on the field and was rewarded when Jones scrambled for an 18-yard gain. Jones converted a 3rd-and-1 with a sneak to the 10 and then, facing a 3rd-and-goal with 2:11 remaining, Jones’s pass was knocked down by Derrick Brown, straight into Jones’s arms, who did not come close to scoring the touchdown but did force Malzahn to use his second timeout.
Bulovas could tie the game with a 30-yard field goal, but the Achilles heel of Saban’s crimson dynasty reared its ugly head again, as the kick smacked off the left upright.
Auburn could win the game with a first down, but the Tigers gained only six yards on three runs. However, Auburn kept its offense on the field, baiting Alabama into a game-ending illegal substitution penalty. The five penalty yards were enough to convert the first down, handing Auburn (9-3, 5-3 SEC) its second Iron Bowl win in three years.
The win moved Auburn to 19-0 under Malzahn when scoring a non-offensive touchdown, and dropped Alabama to 0-7 in games of ranked teams at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It also marks Malzahn’s third win over Saban, tying Les Miles for the most among SEC coaches. The loss also means Saban is still winless against 9-win Auburn teams during his tenures at LSU and Alabama.