INSTANT ANALYSIS: Alabama's playoff hopes in jeopardy after loss to Auburn
AUBURN, Ala. — Terrell Lewis and Christian Miller were back, so was Mack Wilson. Although none of that seemed to make much of a difference during Saturday’s Iron Bowl.
No. 1 Alabama needed much more than its injured linebacking trio to stop a high-flying No. 6 Auburn offense, falling 26-14 to the Tigers. Using a quick-strike offensive attack, Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham led the way for the Tigers, completing 21 of 28 passes for 237 yards while adding 51 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide had little answer for Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson who finished the day with 104 yards and a touchdown on the ground while adding a 3-yard touchdown through the air.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts finished the game 13 of 23 passing for 176 yards and a touchdown. He added another 80 yards on 17 carries but spent most of the day running away from Auburn defenders as he was sacked twice and hurried nine times. The loss is only the second in the sophomore’s career.
Auburn (10-2) will advance to next week’s SEC Championship against No. 7 Georgia, while Alabama (11-1) is in jeopardy of missing out on the College Football Playoff for the first time in four years. The Crimson Tide will now need some help if it is to earn one of the final four playoff spots.
If Alabama does make College Football Playoffs it will be the second team to do so without winning its conference championship. Ohio State made last year’s playoff despite not winning its conference. The Crimson Tide would also have to hope the committee is willing to take two teams from the same conference, as the winner of the SEC Championship Game appears likely to also earn a spot.
Despite the loss, Alabama still holds a 45-36-1 record all-time against Auburn.
Here are some notes from Saturday’s game:
Dink and dunk
Auburn picked apart Alabama’s defense with several screen passes early, whipping the ball out to the edge and daring the Crimson Tide’s cornerbacks to make tackles. The plan worked to perfection as quarterback Jarrett Stidham completed 11 of his first 12 passes on the day.
Auburn struck first as the Tigers drove down the field on 12 plays during their second possession. The drive was capped off by a 3-yard touchdown from running back Kerryon Johnson to receiver Nate Craig-Myers. The play came on a jump pass as Johnson lined up as the Wildcat quarterback.
The Tigers nearly doubled their lead on their next possession, as Stidham led them down to the Alabama 4-yard line. However, the quarterback fumbled the snap and Crimson Tide defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne was there to fall on it at the 9-yard line.
Third and oh
Alabama’s third-down woes continued and ultimately proved too costly Saturday. The Crimson Tide converted on just three of its 11 third downs while allowing Auburn to convert on 9 of 18 third-down attempts.
Trailing Auburn 14-13 midway through the third quarter, the Tigers went on a 12-play, 69-yard drive capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run from Johnson. Auburn went 3-for-3 on third down on the drive.
Alabama’s biggest heartbreak on third down came in the third quarter with the Crimson Tide facing a third-and-9 from the Auburn 17. Rolling to his right, Hurts heaved a prayer to the end zone. The ball was batted down and appeared to fall into the hands of tight end Hale Hentges for a miraculous touchdown. However, the play was later reviewed to show that the ball hit the ground. Alabama then botched the ensuing field goal attempt, allowing Auburn to take over at its own 36.
Struggling on third down has been a recent trend for the Crimson Tide. During its 31-24 comeback win over Mississippi State two weeks ago Alabama was just 3 of 9 on third downs while allowing the Bulldogs to go 8 of 15.
Injured linebacking trio returns
Injured linebackers Terrell Lewis (elbow), Christian Miller (bicep) and Mack Wilson (foot) all made their returns for the game. Christian Miller served as an outside linebacker when the Crimson Tide ran out its base defensive package. Lewis and Wilson came in when Alabama was in its dime package.
While the injured trio provided depth to a thin linebacking unit, they didn’t show up much on the stat sheet. Lewis finished the game with two tackles, while Wilson and Miller finished with one tackle apiece.
Saban still winless against 9-win Auburn teams
Nick Saban has plenty of streaks, most of which are positive. However, Saturday extended one the Alabama head coach isn’t too proud of.
With the loss, Saban moved to 9-7 against Auburn. Despite holding a winning record against the Tigers, Saban is now 0-7 against Auburn teams with nine wins or more. The head coach has even less luck in those games when the two teams play at Auburn as six of those defeats have come in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Saban vs. Auburn (9-7)
2017 — Alabama 26, Auburn 14 (Auburn’s record 10-2)
2016 — Alabama 30, Auburn 12 (Auburn’s record 8-5)
2015 — Alabama 29, Auburn 13 (Auburn’s record 7-6)
2014 — Alabama 55, Auburn 44 (Auburn’s record 8-5)
2013 — Auburn 34, Alabama 28 (Auburn’s record 12-2)
2012 — Alabama 49, Auburn 0 (Auburn’s record 3-9)
2011 — Alabama 42, Auburn 14 (Auburn’s record 8-5)
2010 — Auburn 28, Alabama 27 (Auburn’s record 14-0)
2009 — Alabama 26, Auburn 21 (Auburn’s record 8-5)
2008 — Alabama 36, Auburn 0 (Auburn’s record 5-7)
2007 — Auburn 17, Alabama 10 (Auburn’s record 9-4)
2004 — Auburn 10, LSU 9 (Auburn’s record 13-0)
2003 — LSU 31, Auburn 7 (Auburn’s record 8-5)
2002 — Auburn 31, LSU 7 (Auburn’s record 9-4)
2001 — LSU 27, Auburn 14 (Auburn’s record 7-5)
2000 — Auburn 34, LSU 17 (Auburn’s record 9-4)
* Wins in bold