Alabama took Auburn's best shot in the first half on Saturday before flexing its muscles after the break to grind out a 29-13 victory, clinching the SEC West in the process. The Tide stuck with its core identity in this one, holding the ball for 35 minutes while running on more than 60% of its offensive snaps. Derrick Henry was the workhorse once again, rushing an absurd 46 times for 271 yards and likely salting away the Heisman should Alabama win next week as expected.
What else can be said about Derrick Henry? His weight room work ethic has become legendary and shows up in the fourth quarter every week. I'm not sure I have ever seen a running back that can take on that type of workload and still have enough in the tank to bust a 25-yarder on his 46th carry. On several occasions Henry proved to be flat-out stronger than the Auburn defenders as he ran through arm tackles in the backfield to turn potential losses into solid gains. He joined Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson as the only three men to rush for 200 yards in four SEC contests during a single season. His ticket is punched to the Heisman ceremony, and he has a great chance to bring back the trophy.
Jake Coker continues to show leadership as well. He certainly isn't the most polished passer, but seems to come up big in key moments. On Alabama's first touchdown drive, he put his head down and nearly converted a key third down with his legs, leaving the ball only inches short that the Tide would ultimately pick up on fourth down after some tomfoolery from the officials. Three plays later he provided the dagger, escaping hits from two Auburn defenders before showing off his big arm, rifling a 34-yard TD to ArDarius Stewart. The play had the feel of a championship moment.
Stewart had some maddening moments again but ended up leading the way for the WR corps with eight catches for 81 yards. On one third down play, Coker was furious after throwing a back shoulder fade at the sticks only to watch Stewart run a nine route. Calvin Ridley had a nice day, hauling in 6/90 including a beautiful catch on a 46-yard completion in the second quarter. It was a rather quiet day for the rest of the pass-catching contingent, with OJ Howard the most glaring omission from the box score. He should have been a nightmare for Auburn's substandard linebackers.
Defensively, the Tide struggled a bit initially, needing some time to adjust to the Auburn misdirection. Reuben Foster in particular was caught chasing the fake a few times, allowing the Tigers to make some hay on the ground early. As usual, however, the depth on the defensive line was able to wear down the Auburn offensive line and allowed a grand total of one rushing yard in the second half. For all the hand wringing about the defense early, Auburn was held to 91 yards rushing on 2.5 per carry, a far cry from the 191 and 4.3 that they have averaged and by far their lowest total on the season.
The pass defense was stout for the most part, though Jeremy Johnson's incompetence had plenty to do with the poor 43% completion rate. On two memorable occasions he simply blew the throw to a wide open receiver for what could have been big gains. Auburn's lone touchdown came via the lucky bounce, but as in the Ole Miss game Geno Matias-Smith was somewhat complicit as he made an ill-advised diving attempt at an interception, almost taking out Eddie Jackson's knees in the process. That effort was likely a product of Mel Tucker's emphasis on turnovers, but it is important for players to understand game situation. The Tide had just scored to take a comfortable lead in the game and had Auburn in 3rd-and-12. That pass was thrown some 20 yards downfield, meaning that an interception with no return would have been only slightly better than a punt. A teaching moment to be sure, as lapses in judgment will cause big problems as the Tide moves into the postseason.
Adam Griffith seems to have legitimately turned it around at this point, as he drilled all five of his field goal attempts including one from 47 and one from 50. These kicks weren't limping over the cross-bar either. He looked like the guy with NFL talent we heard about during his recruitment. JK Scott averaged nearly 50 yards a punt but kicked two of his three attempts into the end zone. The return game looked fine save for one potentially disastrous play where Richard Mullaney didn't understand the rules regarding touched balls in the end zone, something that your two primary kick returners should understand. This was absolutely a coaching issue.
The Tide seemed to emerge from this one healthy, though Derrick needs to spend some serious time in the ice bath. Denzel Devall limped off with an apparent knee issue, but Saban didn't seem to think it was a major concern. Hopefully he will be ready to go next week. Considering the horrible field conditions that had Alabama players on skates for much of the afternoon, the team should probably feel fortunate.
Any conference win is a good win, and whipping little brother is always sweet. The Tide now moves on to an SEC Championship matchup against a Florida bunch that has looked downright putrid on offense in the past few weeks. The Tide will likely be favored by double digits again and should employ the same strategy we have become accustomed to seeing. A win there sends the Tide to the playoffs again with a legitimate chance for redemption for the many veterans on this roster.