Initial Impressions from the Auburn Game

Not your fault, kid. - John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

Guess we don't get to have all the fun...

Well, what can you say about this one?

Alabama just lost a football game that it had no business losing, to a team it had no business losing to, on two fluky TDs in the last 32 seconds. As a fan, it hurts. As a player, it undoubtedly hurts worse. I'm sure at some point this game will be looked upon as an example of a great rivalry, a reason to "throw out the record books" when Alabama and Auburn meet. For Bama fans, that day is not today and likely won't come for a while. For now all we are left with is the reality that this season, this team that is widely considered the best in the land, will finish with no hardware of any kind and left to ponder where it all went awry.

Let's start with the offense. By and large, the running game was solid. TJ Yeldon managed 141 yards on 26 carries, Kenyan Drake adding another 33 yards on four carries. It is curious that Drake, who we assume to be the healthier of the two backs, got his lightest workload of the season despite averaging roughly three yards a carry more than Yeldon in limited action. Perhaps the coaches didn't feel they could trust Kenyan to hold on to the ball, maybe they were concerned about his ability to help on Dee Ford and the Auburn pass rush, but his extremely limited role certainly raises questions. Unfortunately, the run game failed on multiple attempts in critical short-yardage situations, including a failure to convert a 2nd and 3 in three attempts late in the game. This turned out to be a huge moment in the game that we will discuss further in a bit. As far as the passing game goes, for my money it was downright brutal for much of the afternoon. The 99-yarder- which was still slightly underthrown- propped up the numbers, but the other 28 attempts yielded only 177 yards for a very mediocre 6.3 yards per pass. AJ was inaccurate for much of the first half and receivers missed several catchable passes. Watching this team all year, we knew that there would be times that the defense would need the offense to carry the day. Unfortunately yesterday was one of those times, and they came up short. Mediocre passing, short-yardage failures, and only 4-for-13 on third down. Not our best day.

Now, the defense. Crimson Tide fans are unaccustomed to seeing the defense gashed between the tackles the way this unit was, to the tune of 5.7 yards per carry and 296 rushing yards. Marshall and crew executed the Veer concepts very well, but most of Tre Mason's yards were gained on basic straight-ahead power plays. Obviously the threat of Marshall on the edges tends to soften the middle a bit, but Auburn was still able to have a ton of success at the point of attack. Their running game kept them in 3rd-and-short situations for most of the day, contributing to a stellar 8-for-15 conversion rate. The numbers suggest that the secondary played well, but this is as misleading a stat as you'll ever see. The Tigers passed the ball only 16 times in the game, competing 11 for only 97 yards, but there were two other plays where Auburn WRs were running wide open behind the defense only for Marshall to miss surefire TD throws. The secondary has been shaky at times all season, and this game was no exception. In fact, a horribly busted coverage on the Coates TD ultimately surrendered the lead and directly led to the loss. All told, the defense allowed 5.8 yards per play in this game and it really should have been worse. No way to sugarcoat it, folks, we got torched.

Special teams.

That's all I have to say about that.

Really isn't much to talk about here. Cody Mandell punted well despite, harmlessly as it turned out, dropping his first attempt, but poor Cade Foster was absolutely dreadful kicking the football. That the one FG he put through the uprights was called back for a phantom false-start can only be chalked up to Auburn Luck, but it was just an atrocious performance. Rarely do you see play poor enough to cause Saban to abandon his basic strategic principles, but that's exactly what we saw in this one.

The coaches had a rather head-scratching day as well with several mind-boggling decisions. At the end of the first half, we called timeout before an upcoming 3rd-and-14 on our own 37 yard line... then proceeded to run Yeldon. Clearly, we weren't prepared for the fluke of all flukes on the last play of the game, but that play never should have happened to begin with. No, the decision that may have been the turning point in the game was the failed attempt to go for 4th-and-1 on the Auburn 13-yard line with 5:34 left in the game. Call it hindsight, but for a coach who typically sticks to his principles, this decision was indefensible. A ten-point lead at that point in the game over a team that struggles to throw the ball would have probably been insurmountable. This is a different scenario than 2011 LSU where we kept trying 45+ long field goals that had virtually no chance. This was a chip-shot opportunity to give Cade his confidence back and win the game. Granted, the offensive line should have been able to convert the yard, but in that situation you have to take the points. I have a feeling this will be debated for some time.

That's about it. No national title this year, no second chances. I would guess that we end up in the Orange Bowl as FSU's replacement and finish the season against a top ten opponent since the Orange has first dibs of the at-large teams. As it stands now I would guess Baylor or Clemson would be the opponent, with either offering a compelling matchup. Time to lick our wounds, take it like a man, and fight on. Roll Tide.

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