OTS will have his initial impressions up later, but there's a few things I wanted to note after looking at the box score and thinking back on all the things we said about this game over the past week. Although the Tigers managed to outgain us in total yardage (332 yards to our 291) and hold us to only 73 yards rushing (and a horrible 2.1 ypc average), there were quite a few other factors that played heavily into the Tide's victory:
1. QB Play: All week long "taking Ingram away and making McElroy win the game" was considered the key if Auburn hoped to pull the upset. Well, they succeeded in both aspects but it didn't turn out like Auburn hoped. Compare the stat lines.
When it came down to it, McElroy completed at a higher percentage and moved his offense while Todd gave Alabama two scoring opportunities with turnovers. Barron's INT set up the FG that drew Alabama to within 1 point, and his fumble on a sack by Eryk Anders resulted in a missed FG. And while we're talking sacks, both QBs took three, though Todd managed to lose 32 yards when getting hit while McElroy gave up only 7. Further, McElroy operated the two minute offense to perfection on the final drive, leading the Tide down the field on a 15 play, 79 yard TD drive to take the first lead of the game, all while completing 6 of 7 passes and converting three 3rd downs (including the TD throw to Upchurch). The closest Auburn came to mounting a similar lengthy drive was the 12 play, 58 yard second TD drive (after the recovered onside kick), which was greatly aided by a false start penalty and a unsportsmanlike call on Justin Woodall's boneheaded tantrum.
2. Number of Snaps: Thought it might not have seemed like it, we did flip the script on Auburn, holding them to only 59 offensive snaps while getting 67 ourselves. It was the lowest number of offensive plays Auburn has run in conference play (with 61 against LSU being the second closest).
3. Cheap Scores: On the Radio Hour we talked about the need to keep Auburn from getting cheap scores on our defense. I said repeatedly that Malzahn's offense is so good at it's misdirection and causing missed assignments resulting in big gains that it would present a challenge for our defense, forcing us to stay at home and take proper pursuit angles all while playing at the same aggressive speed we've come to prize. Sure enough, two of Auburn's three* TDs came as a result of missed assignments and Auburn's players making plays in space that could have been stopped short but for a) effort on their part and b) poor technique on ours.
Cheap TD the First: Terrell Zachary rushes for a 67 yard TD on a reverse. How did it happen? As Bamagrad noted, Eryk Anders lost contain on the reverse and let the play get rolling, but two other players could have kept Zachary from the end zone. Kareem Jackson had a shot at a tackle after getting off of a block by an Auburn offensive lineman, though it would have been an ankle tackle at best. Arenas also had a chance but he overran the play, allowing Zachary to cut back inside and reach the end zone for the score. A missed assignment and a bad pursuit angle gave Auburn their first score of the game.
Cheap TD the Second: In the 3rd quarter, with Alabama having tied the game back up at 14 before the half, Chris Todd finds a wide open Darvin Adams for a 72 yard TD. It was a two play scoring drive (Kodi Burns had rushed for four yards on first down) that put the Tigers right back in the driver's seat, and it came on a missed assignment. We'd been having success with the corner blitz and went back to the well, but Mark Barron, instead of staying over the top, stayed shallow and allowed Adams to blow right by him, resulting in the second "cheap" score of the game. That's 14 points given up by the defense because of missed assignments.
4. Extending Drives: Alabama had 13 drives in the game (including the two play drive at the end of the first half with :39 left on the clock) and made first downs on 8 of them (62%), while Auburn managed 14 drives and managed a first down on only 6 of them (43%). That includes their two play, 72 yard TD drive. Going further, only 3 of their 14 drives resulted in a scoring opportunity, while six resulted in 3 and outs, two ended in turnovers, and the final drive...well, you know what happened there. Meanwhile, Alabama had four 3 and outs and a turnover on downs, but otherwise was generally able to extend their drives into scoring opportunities (punting only once after having previously converted a first down on the drive).
5. Taking Their Best Shot: Lost in the hoopla of Auburn's quick start and control of the scoreboard until late in the game is that Alabama won the final three quarters 26-7 and effectively stymied the Auburn offense through the latter half of the game. Credit the team's resilience and confidence for not panicking and continuing to grind away.
Putting it all together, the game played out like a lot of us expected. Auburn sold out to stop Ingram, threw everything they had at us early, and managed to catch us off guard for some easy scores. Thankfully, it also played out for us like we pretty well expected; we limited their snaps, took advantage of take aways and good returns by Arenas, and when it counted dug down and ground out a win against a thin and gassed defense.
* while the third TD came after an actual drive, that drive was forced to cover only 58 yards after a surprise onside kick that should have been tipped by the weird formation Auburn was using. I won't say Auburn didn't earn the TD, but I will say they caught us napping once again to set up the score.