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Initial Impressions from the Auburn Game

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Playoff time.

FLAGGED.
FLAGGED.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Well, I guess that Iron Bowl lived up to the billing.

In what has easily become the most entertaining series in America, Alabama dominated the second half to defeat chief antagonist Gus Malzahn and his Auburn Tigers by a crazy 55-44 margin. No defense was to be found on either side, but Alabama's offense proved to be the more potent of the two as Blake Sims bounced back from adversity to put the Tide on his back and will the team to victory. It wasn't always pretty - in fact, it was quite nerve-racking for much of the evening - but in the end it worked out. A few initial impressions:

Offensively, the conversation has to start with Amari Cooper. Every time the team has needed a big play this season, Cooper has provided it. There is no longer any debate about the best receiver in Crimson Tide history, folks. The thirteen catches for 224 yards and three TDs ties his own school record for yardage in a game. He is the one indispensable superstar on the roster, truth be told the Tide is probably a three to four loss team without him. I've said it many times, but savor watching him the last few games, folks. He is special.

Needless to say, no WR can succeed without a potent trigger man, and Blake Sims was every bit of that in the second half. Pretty amazing turnaround considering the backup QB was warming up on the sideline following a third, awful, interception. Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson seemed to have Blake confused early in the game, his secondary clearly instructed to jump the short slants and outs that Sims favors. Sims and Kiffin finally figured out that yards were there for the taking over the top, but it was nearly too late when they did. In any event, the young man once again circled the wagons and put on a clinic to close the game. Blake is one of those guys that make you love to watch college football. Like all college teams and the college game as a whole, he has flaws that can be exploited, but he simply never gives up and seems to make every play with the game on the line. At this point I think it's fair to say that Blake may not be a great passer, but he is a great college quarterback who will be remembered forever in Tuscaloosa.

The running game was quite encouraging in this one as TJ Yeldon looked fully healthy for the first time in weeks and Derrick Henry returned to his big play tendencies. For most of the night it appeared that Kiffin eschewed zone stretch plays in favor of good old-fashioned sweeps, allowing the big uglies to just get out and maul people. I hope those are used more going forward as the results were beautiful. The interior of the line was still a bit inconsistent as there were a few holding calls and Auburn was able to penetrate the A gaps on multiple occasions. We will be waiting anxiously to learn Cam Robinson's status for next week as he left the game late with what appeared to be an injured shoulder and never returned. Austin Shepherd moved over to LT in his absence with Grant Hill manning RT. Shepherd had a key block on Yeldon's final TD run as he took out two Auburn defenders simultaneously.


Now, that defense. There is no way to sugarcoat the first half, they got torched in a manner usually reserved for FCS teams. Auburn did whatever it wanted before the break, rolling up well over 300 yards of offense and 26 points, a total that could have been much higher if not for some timely stops inside the Alabama 10-yard line. As the game went on, the Tide found some answers in the run game to hold the Tigers to 3.7 per carry, paltry production by their standards. Indeed, it appeared that Malzahn knew he couldn't win the game running it down Alabama's throats so he broke tendencies and started chucking it. Coming into this one QB Nick Marshall had attempted 30 passes exactly once in SEC play, throwing it 35 times in effort to come back from a huge deficit against Mississippi State but no more than 23 times in any other SEC game. Against Alabama, Marshall heaved it a whopping 43 times, completing 27 of them for a ridiculous 453 yards that were mostly gained with big plays over the top. Alabama could find no answer for Sammie Coates in particular as he lit up the secondary for 206 yards on a cool 41 yard average that most punters would be proud of. The secondary's performance was certainly concerning, but I do believe that much of the early success can be chalked up to lack of preparation for this type of attack. There was no reason to believe Auburn would be airing it out in that fashion, nor any reason to believe that Marshall could be as successful as he was in doing so.

Special teams were good outside of the place kicking, as freshman Gunnar Raborn handled the bulk of the extra points while Adam Griffith nurses an apparent back injury. The blocked kick was painfully low, and it appeared that Saban was reluctant to kick field goals as he somewhat uncharacteristically went for it twice on fourth down. Both times the probability numbers were in the Tide's favor, and both converted. It will be interesting to see if this fact is lost on Saban or if he will come to realize that kicking the ball too often actually costs you points. JK Scott was his usual ridiculous self, deflating the ball with his foot twice for a 55 yard average, and Christion Jones had one very nice 29 yard punt return. Coverage teams performed admirably.

At this stage of the season, the theme is very simply "survive and advance." No more worries about style points, it's all about the wins and losses now. This team seems to have something special about it, an uncanny will to win any type of game that should give Tide fans plenty of hope for the desired outcome. Simply put, this is a fun team to watch and support. Last night's victory clinched the brutal SEC West and a berth in the SEC Championship Game: mission accomplished. Win in Atlanta next week by one point and they move on to New Orleans for a national semifinal. All goals are in sight, now it's time to seize the day and achieve them. Win or lose, we'll be watching and rooting for them every second. Buckle up and enjoy the ride, folks. Roll Tide.