10 takeaways: Alabama Crimson Tide falls to Auburn, 48-45
AUBURN, Ala. — Here are 10 takeaways from No. 5 Alabama's 48-45 loss to No. 15 Auburn.
1. Waddle baby Waddle
Saturday might have served as one of the final times Alabama’s vaunted receiving corps will take the field together. However, all is not lost for the future of the Crimson Tide’s aerial attack — not while Jaylen Waddle has any say in it.
Alabama’s top three receivers — DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III — all project as possible first-round picks in next year’s NFL Draft. While the status of the three juniors is unknown moving forward, Alabama can take comfort in knowing the fourth member of its fearsome foursome will be around for at least one more season.
In a lot of ways, Saturday served as a passing of the torch as Waddle emerged as Alabama’s most dangerous receiving threat. The sophomore dynamo experienced a career day, pulling in four receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown while recording 132 more yards on kick returns, including one for a 98-yard score in the second quarter.
Last season, Waddle earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors, tallying 848 yards and seven touchdowns on 45 receptions. Through 12 games this season, he has 553 yards and six touchdowns on 32 catches and also leads the nation averaging 24.95 yards per punt return.
Assuming Smith, Jeudy and Ruggs all depart for the NFL this spring, Waddle will undoubtedly become Alabama’s primary target next year. If Saturday is any indication, the Crimson Tide’s receiving corps is in more than capable hands.
2. Mac’s fight back from adversity
Before Saturday’s game, Nick Saban was asked about the importance of Mac Jones’ ability to keep his cool and respond to adversity in the first road start of his career. The head coach responded by stating his new starting quarterback would need to remain in the right mental place and stay confident against a very good defensive team.
Jones did just that against Auburn, rebounding from a slow start and two pick-sixes to finish with a career-high 335 yards and four touchdowns.
“I thought Mac played really well,” Saban said following the game. “The two picks for touchdowns, those are the kind of plays that you never want to happen, and I’m sure Mac wishes he had those back, but he was actually pressured pretty good on the one down on the goal line and had to get rid of the ball. But I thought overall, he did a really, really good job today.”
While Jones’ two errors resulted in 14 points the other way, he was able to bounce back on both occasions. During his two possessions following the pix-sixes, the redshirt sophomore combined to complete 6 of 8 passes for 98 yards while throwing touchdowns on each drive.
3. Penalties are problematic
It’s fitting that Alabama’s playoff hopes were ultimately put to rest by a penalty.
Trailing Auburn by three with a little over a minute remaining, the Crimson Tide was done in by an illegal substitution penalty which gave the Tigers a first down on fourth-and-4 from their own 26-yard line.
The flag served as the final nail in the coffin for a season marred with mental mistakes. After entering the day averaging seven penalties per game, Alabama suffered a season-high 13 Saturday resulting in 96 yards.
“The disappointing thing to me is we came here with the idea that we needed to play with a lot of discipline, not get a lot of penalties,” head coach Nick Saban said, “do a great job of executing and doing our job on a consistent basis, people holding and being accountable so that we can get the kind of execution that we’d like to get and people make decisions through their discipline that’s going to put the team first and help enhance the team’s chances of being successful.
“And I don’t think we did that great. We got way too many penalties, put ourselves in too many bad situations.”
4. Got another second?
Alabama was once again burned by a last-second field goal at Auburn. This time it came before the half as the referees added another second onto the clock, allowing Tigers kicker Anders Carlson enough time to boot a 52-yard field goal through the uprights.
With nine seconds remaining in the half, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix hit running back JaTarvious Whitlow for a 17-yard gain to the Alabama 34-yard-line. Originally time ran out in the half. However, after review, it was ruled there was one second remaining on the game clock. That led to a tirade from Saban who took off his headset before tearing into an official on the sideline. Following the game, the head coach voiced his displeasure with the situation.
“I don’t know if I should tell you that, but the guy beside me said, ‘They won’t be able to get it off anyway,’” Saban said. “They waited and waited and waited and wound on the clock and the guy snapped the ball and kicked it and they said it was good. So, I think you can snap the ball with a second to go in the game, but whether they did or didn’t, that’s not my judgment.”
5. Alabama’s first two-loss regular season since 2010
Following Alabama’s loss to LSU earlier this month, Saban implored his team to finish the season strong.
“We have kind of a legacy around here that we’ve only had one team in the last 12 years that’s lost more than one game in the regular season,” he reminded his players. “I’d like for this team to be able to continue that, and we certainly want to focus on all the things that we need to do to try to be able to get that done.”
Unfortunately for Alabama, it couldn’t find a way to keep that streak going this year. For the first time since its three-loss season in 2010, the Crimson Tide will head into the postseason with multiple blemishes on its record. That team nine years ago rebounded with a 49-7 victory over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. It will be interesting to see if Alabama shows another inspired effort this time around as it won’t be playing for a national title for the first time since the 2013 season.
6. Kick to the gut
Field goals haven’t been kind to Alabama in recent years. The all-too-familiar clang of Joseph Bulovas’ missed game-tying 30-yard attempt hitting the upright served as yet another reminder of the Crimson Tide’s kicking deficiencies of late. What’s made matters worse this season is the fact that Alabama’s opponents haven’t done it any favors either.
While Alabama has missed six of its 18 field goal attempts this season, it has had to watch as its opponents have perfectly sailed the ball through the uprights on all 17 of their tries. That included a perfect 4-for-4 showing from Carlson, who connected from 43 yards, 52 yards, 43 yards and 44 yards Saturday.
7. Najee Harris reaches the 1,000-yard mark
Before this year’s Iron Bowl became a track meet, Najee Harris flashed his patented hurdling ability. Alabama leaned on its five-star back early on as Harris had 78 yards on eight carries in the first quarter alone. One of those came on a play where he leaped over Auburn defensive back Jeremiah Dinson for a first down on the Crimson Tide’s opening possession.
Later in the half, Harris jumped Superman-style over two Auburn defenders on his way to the end zone. The junior finished the day matching his career-high of 146 yards on the ground while adding another 26 through the air. The 100-yard performance on the ground was Harris’ fifth of the season. It also helped him eclipse the 1,000-yard mark on the year. Through 12 games, Harris has rushed for 1,088 yards and 11 touchdowns.
8. Wild second quarter
It’s hard to believe, but Saturday’s high-scoring affair was tied at 10 midway through the second quarter after Carlson hit his first field goal of the day for Auburn. It wouldn’t stay that way for long though.
The scoring floodgates were opened when Auburn defensive back Smoke Monday returned a floated pass from Jones 29 yards for a touchdown with 5:36 remaining in the half. Waddle then returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a score before Christian Harris recovered a fumble for the Crimson Tide three plays later. After starting at the Auburn 37-yard line, Jones led Alabama on a four-play scoring drive capped off by a 3-yard pass to Ruggs.
Auburn responded with a 14-yard touchdown from Nix to receiver Sal Cannela on its next possession before Jones found Waddle for another score from 58 yards out. Carlson’s 52-yard field goal at the half served as the final three points in a wild quarter that saw Alabama and Auburn explode for a combined 48 points.
9. Ranked matchups in Auburn don’t go Alabama’s way
Saturday marked the fifth time an Iron Bowl featuring two ranked teams had been played inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn has won all of the games dating back to the first such occasion in 1989.
— 2019: No. 15 Auburn 48, No. 5 Alabama 45
— 2017: No. 6 Auburn 24, No. 1 Alabama 14
— 2013: No. 4 Auburn 34, No. 1 Alabama 28
— 2005: No. 11 Auburn 28, No. 8 Alabama 18
— 1989: No. 11 Auburn 30, No. 2 Alabama 20
10. Tua provides injury update
Injured quarterback Tua Tagovailoa made the cross-state trip to cheer on his team from the sidelines Saturday as he was included in Alabama’s 70-player travel limit. Before the kickoff, he spoke to CBS, providing an update on his recovery from a dislocated hip earlier this month.
"I'm feeling good," Tagovailoa said. "It's a lot better than it was last week, you know. But I can't stress enough how appreciative my family and I are for the amount of love and support we've been getting from the fans and people worldwide. I also want to thank the doctors. They've done a tremendous job in helping me on my road to recovery. At this point, I just wish I could play today. It's no weight-bearing for about six weeks and that's kind of all they've really told me. They don't want to tell me anything else ... no weight-bearing for six weeks and then if they can get me going after the six-week mark, well, then that's what I'll be doing."