Alabama was favored by Vegas by north of 24 points in this game, and all week it felt like either Alabama would cover, or it would be one of those games that came down to the last play, with no room in-between.
Fortunately for all of us still recovering from eating too much, it wound up being the former, minimizing the heartburn and generally being an easy victory to watch.
For all of the talk around Auburn being Nick Saban’s weakness, that’s now the 6th time the Crimson Tide has blown out their in-state rival during his tenure.
The opening kickoff saw starting corner and RBR-favorite Josh Jobe sprinting down the field as a gunner and leveling the kick returner. I LOVE watching starters making plays like that on special teams, and bringing that kind of attidude and energy really set the tone for the Alabama defense the rest of the game.
Auburn went three and out, highlighted by a 3rd down sack from Chris Allen, and punted the ball to Alabama. Working with a very short field, Alabama’s offense gave the ball right back after their own 3rd down conversion was called back due to an “illegal formation” that consisted of Alex Leatherwood being about a step further back than the guard... Like every other offensive tackle in college football for the last 15 years. Whatever.
Alabama ended another most ineffectual drive when Justin Eboigbe shot through the middle of a double team like a whitehead being squeezed out of a zit, and Christian Barmore finished up the sack by swallowing Bo Nix whole. This time, Alabama’s offense had no qualms with taking the lead.
Mac Jones dropped back after faking the handoff, then loaded up to throw the quick slant. It’s the same RPO slant pass that Alabama has run over and over so effectively for the last three seasons, and every SEC defense has studied and studied it, trying to figure out how to stop it.
And that’s the beauty of game theory, and having an offensive coordinator that knows how to theorize the game. That RPO slant is so effective, that Alabama didn’t run it. Devonta Smith ran a slant... and go. Mac Jones pump-faked the slant, dropped back another step, and then launched it deep.
Steve Sarkisian is a master-class play-caller.
Will Anderson very nearly got a 3rd down sack to force another 3-and-out, but got hooked by his jersey collar and Nix managed to scramble for the first. They then almost accomplished another long scramble, but actually got called for holding this time and the drive fizzled. Three in a row for the once-maligned Alabama defense that had not given up a touchdown in three games.
The very next drive was when Mac Jones, flash incarnate, took off around right end on 3rd and 2 in what could ultimately be his Heisman moment. The thicc QB took off towards the sideline, being chased by Big Kat Bryant, the 250-pound freak of nature pass rusher who, despite his name, is not as fast of a big cat as our Cheetah, McCorkle Jones. Mac, who had the space to get the first down by a hair, decided instead to hit the brakes and watch Big Kat go flying past him, and then dove two yards past the line of scrimmage.
The next play was a quick swing pass to Najee Harris who, not to be outdone, absolutely embarrassed the dude covering him with a combo hesi-juke-stiff arm move and racing for 22 yards. Mac capped off the drive with a quick slant touchdown to John Metchie.
Auburn did mange to cobble together a mostly discombobulated drive that resulted in 3 points. Daniel Wright had a nice 1v1 tackle on Tank Bigsby to force the field goal, and freshman Malachi Moore outran Anthony Schwartz (the supposed “fastest player in college football”) on a jet sweep to pick up a TFL in what was yet another phenomenal day for the shoe-in freshman All-American.
A big run from Najee Harris and a big pass interference on Devonta Smith put Alabama right back into scoring territory. The pass interference was actually a really impressive play from the Auburn DB. It was the exact same play that Alabama ran on LSU last year where everyone pretends to be looking at the sideline and then quick-snaps it— The play that saw Derek Stingley get toasted for a touchdown. To his credit, the Auburn guy saw the play, stayed within a couple of yards of Smith, and then tackled him when he knew the TD would be inevitable.
No matter, Mac Jones floated a 20 yard crosser as he got drilled by a blitz to secret-weapon-TE Jahleel Billingsley, and the Tide took a 21-3 lead.
Another quick punt from Auburn, and Sarkisian for some reason decided to ram Brian Robinson directly up the gut for 4 straight plays, and Alabama punted it right back.
With 1:23 left in the half, Auburn finally showed some signs of life. Nix slipped out of a sack and threw a last second prayer down the sideline to Seth Williams, who made the catch over Daniel Wright. The very next play, Wright bit on a double move from Williams, who shot down the field for the most wide-open TD throw Nix would ever have in his career. Except, on a cloudy day, Williams must have got a sudden glimpse of the sun and dropped it. Another 20 yard pass on Wright got Auburn within striking distance, but then Malachi Moore, knowing Auburn would want to run a quick out to stop the clock, undercut a route and stole and interception right out of the receiver’s hands to end the half.
A quick three and out after a 2nd and 10 run (a major pet peeve of mine) saw Auburn get the ball back, and they continued to target Daniel Wright. A 37 yard pass got them to field goal range, but the Tide defense held stout to prevent a touchdown. 21-6.
It had been two quarters since DeVonta Smith had scored, and he was done with that. Sarkisian drew up a Lane Kiffin classic, and Smith started blocking for what looked to be a WR screen to freshman Javon baker... And then released from his block to catch a slant, reversed direction, and just flat out obliterated the angles of the Auburn defensive backs, because geometry doesn’t matter in the presence of demigods.
In case you didn't know, Devonta Smith is ridiculously fast. pic.twitter.com/zr53vWef6D— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 28, 2020
Auburn missed the subsequent field goal attempt, and in his return from a scary rolled ankle a drive earlier, Najee Harris put the dagger in the wounded Tigers. Harris sprinted up the middle, veering to the left and drawing all the linebackers with him. He then used a move he learned from his former backfield mate, Damien Harris, and jump cut back across Landon Dickerson to the right and sprinted 40 yards for a breakaway touchdown. Twice in two weeks Najee has proven he can get a breakaway run.
Tim Smith helped wreck the next drive, almost sacking Bo Nix, who manage to toss the ball straight into the air an inch before his knee hit the ground. Auburn Jesus, who’d been notably absent, did make a quick appearance, helping the receiver to manage to tip the Jackpot throw and prevent Pat Surtain from getting a pick-six out of it.
Alabama went on a 12-play, 70 yard drive that methodically marched down the field, wasting nearly 6 minutes of time. The final play was on a 3rd and long, and Auburn came on an all-out, cover-0 blitz. Against many QBs in the current College and NFL football levels, heavy blitzing on 3rd and long is an effective strategy. Against Mac Jones, who is on record saying he loves getting smacked by a free rusher, it’s decidedly not. Jones calmly lobbed it over the top while taking the hit, and John Metchie toasted the poor sap trying to cover him one on one down the field. TD Alabama.
A few plays into the next drive, the Alabama defense came up big again. Will Anderson blew up a read option play, then sniffed out a backside leak screen. When Nix came off the man that Anderson covered, he tossed it to the other screen option on the other side of the field. Malachi Moore blew up two blockers, and fellow freshman Brian Branch took advantage of the chaos and picked off the pass. He raced down the field and tried to spin around Bo Nix, but was caught from behind at the goalline as he made his move.
Unfortunately for the Tide, Brian Robinson fumbled on what should have been the touchdown to give Alabama 49 points.
The ensuing drive was a stupid one that would have had remotes flying across living rooms from Hunstville to Mobile has Alabama not been leading by 36 points. Christian Barmore just barely missed sacking Nix in the endzone, and to compound things, tackled the other defensive lineman who would have caught Nix as he spun. Nix then shot down field, juked Dylan Moses, and picked up the first down. After a few successful run plays, Nix lobbed a 3rd down pass down the left sideline. It went about 10 yards over everyone’s heads, and Josh Jobe jumped up to try and catch it. As he did, the Auburn receiver ran headfirst into his chest as the ball sailed harmlessly out of bounds. Somehow, Jobe got called for pass interference.
One tight end coverage bust on Dylan Moses later, Auburn scored to get the first touchdown on Alabama’s defense since the Tennessee game. Alabama subbed in the backups, Alex Leatherwood didn’t feel like blocking on third down to get Bryce Young sacked, and then Malzahn for some reason decided to burn his timeouts trying to score one more time in the final 30 seconds and extend things by 10 minutes before eventually giving up.
Gus gonna Gus.
The difference in this game from every other game we’ve seen from Alabama this year was the defensive line. Christian Barmore, Byron Young, Justin Eboigbe, Phil Mathis, and Tim Smith all got into the backfield and made plays. They stopped runs and affected the QB, rather than just... existing... and hoping the linebackers can do everything.
Smith in particular has an eye-popping series in the third quarter where he destroyed some poor receiver trying to come back inside after a screen pass and then almost sacking Nix on the prayer throw downfield.
On top of that, Alabama’s 3-man pass rush on 3rd downs consisting of Barmore, Will Anderson, and Chris Allen managed to win 3-on-5 all night long to get pressure. Anderson and Allen both played the best games of their careers at the same time, ripping off elite edge rush after elite edge rush.
And even when Allen briefly came out of the game after an apparent finger injury, Ben Davis stepped up and got in the way of an off-tackle run (granted, he tripped himself trying to make the tackle, but he still got in the way enough that someone else got the TFL).
The Alabama corners were nearly perfect yet again, with nearly all of the pass completions coming against either the safeties or linebackers. Malachi Moore might well have been the best player on the defense tonight, running down Schwartz multiple times and being a part of two turnovers.
The was one issue with the Alabama safety group, and I’ll say that it’s time for either DeMarcco Hellams or Brian Branch to get a shot as the full-time starter and leave it at that.
The Alabama offense continued to be as we’ve come to expect. DeVonta Smith is as dominant of a receiver as we’ve ever seen in a long line of dominant receivers. Mac Jones still has occasional moments that will give you a heart attack, but ultimately is a dude that can make the right reads, punish a blitz, and hit deep shot after deep shot. Najee Harris is an all-around great RB, and the offensive line is as good as they get.
Alabama is still looking for another receiver to replace Jaylen Waddle’s production. John Metchie did add a few plays more than just a deep threat tonight, and tight end Jahleel Billingsley is getting more targets. Freshman Javon Baker also got a lot of playtime, but didn’t record any stats.
Ultimately, Sarkisian was a masterful play caller even while doubling down with head coach duties. Fortunately, we didn’t have to put him to the test in making some critical, high pressure decisions.
Look, Alabama just blew out their rival for 6th time in the past 12 years, and the defense really only gave up one long drive— one aided by a crazy scramble play and a really poor pass interference call on 3rd downs. They were explosive on offense, explosive on defense, and just utterly dominant from the opening to play to the end of the 4th quarter.
And if the defensive line continues to make the impact they made tonight and the offense plays at only 80% of how well they’ve played all season, Alabama isn’t losing a game.