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Initial Impressions from the Auburn game

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We can overanalyze this game to death but in the end, luck just wasn’t on our side.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

This is supposed to be all about the Auburn game, but it feels like there is no way to approach it without it becoming a postmortem on the 2019 season. Very little that happened in the game, good or bad, was terribly surprising. We’ve known for some time that this team had warts on defense and an offense that would hopefully be good enough to win shootouts.

For that reason, we also said that Tua Tagovailoa was the one player whose loss would signal the end of the season. Sadly, that turned out to be true despite Mac Jones waltzing into Auburn and playing better than most Alabama fans thought he could if they are being honest with themselves. Mac was victimized by one really bad throw and one episode of inexperience combined with Barn luck. On the latter, a missed block by another inexperienced player in Ale Kaho allowed the pressure. Such was the volatility of the 2019 Alabama squad.

Seriously, people can gnash teeth, wring hands, look for scapegoats, etc. but Alabama should not have lost that game and would not have without unimaginable bad luck. They held Bo Nix to under 50% completions and a horrible 5.6 yards per pass. The run defense wasn’t very good and it hasn’t been for most of the season, but even still, Alabama gained 515 yards on 6.7 per play to their 354 on 5.4 per play, and the Tide held the ball for over 35 minutes. When a team is both more explosive and holds the ball longer, the odds of losing are extraordinarily small. Even third/fourth down conversions were in Alabama’s favor this time, as the Tide had a total conversion rate of 57% while Auburn converted only 38%.

Alas, this was an Iron Bowl in Auburn and thus one single play, a pick six on a play where the Auburn defender never even looked at the football until it fell in his lap after ricocheting off of Najee Harris’ elbow, swung the outcome. Of course, the Tide killed themselves with penalties, albeit with some help from the officials on a phantom pass interference and phantom facemask in the first half. The false starts were infuriating, and Mac covered for most of them. Still, you just can’t commit 13 penalties. Alabama got screwed royally at the end of the first half, but tip your hat to the kicker for making a 52 yarder.

As I wrote in the postgame thread, Anders Carlson putting up the game of his life was just icing on the cake. Folks, you don’t expect any college kicker to make all four kicks from that distance, let alone a guy who had missed nearly two-thirds of his career attempts from that range. The defense gave up some yards but did a fairly good job of bowing up before the ball got into the red zone, only to watch Carlson add points every time. That exact defensive performance could easily have yielded 20 points or so, and that would have been relatively consistent with the yardage output.

But again, Jordan Hare is a cursed hellhole and that isn’t how things work down there.

Najee Harris was a manchild in this one, gaining 146 yards on 27 carries and a score. If only we had played the percentages and handed the ball off from the I-formation on that fateful play. Mac Jones did a wonderful job of distributing the football, as five guys caught four passes or more. Jaylen Waddle, son, you are going to be a joy to watch as the focal point of the offense next season. What a game breaker.

Moving forward, Alabama will play a meaningless exhibition game in about a month and considering what they all saw happen to Tua, I look for a bunch of guys to sit it out. This team made plenty of mistakes, but effort was rarely in question. These young men played their hearts out for us, and they deserve our gratitude. Every class since Saban arrived has won at least one national title, and this group continued that tradition.

Next season is going to have a lot of questions. There are reasons to be optimistic about both sides of the football, but just as many reasons to have concern. Mostly, we have no idea what the squad will look like. Mac Jones stated a hell of a case to be the QB next season, but Taulia Tagovailoa is still around and Bryce Young is headed in. A defensive leader will need to be identified as well, and hopefully this time he doesn’t wreck his knee a couple days before the opener.

In any case, there will be ample talent on hand, and a bunch of new faces to root for. We have plenty of time to look toward next season, though. Right now is a time for reflection on a season that had so much promise but played out so painfully, with so much business left unfinished and dreams left unrealized. We hurt for the young men who are putting it all out there every Saturday and so wanted to bring that trophy back to Tuscaloosa. May the lessons learned this season serve them well.

Roll Tide.