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Initial Impressions from the Auburn Game

Alabama survived on a night when seemingly nothing went right.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was something.

A week after the defense struggled mightily to hold a substantial lead built by a school record passing performance, the offense waited until the 11th hour to get on the board in a game that was thoroughly dominated on the other side. Auburn RB Tank Bigsby came into the game averaging a robust 5.3 yards per carry but could get absolutely nothing going against the Tide, finishing with only 63 yards on 29 attempts. All told, the defense allowed a paltry 159 total yards on 3.3 per play. In a game where the defense absolutely had to step up, they did, and that has to be encouraging.

Will Anderson continues to be a one man wrecking crew. As a freshman he often struggled against the run, but as his sophomore campaign has developed, he has become an every down difference maker and quite possibly the best player in the nation. He has also emerged as the alpha dog leader on that side of the football that this team so desperately needs. True freshman Dallas Turner has developed nicely on the other side, and LaBryan Ray seems to have made a difference on the interior next to Phidarian Mathis. It was only one game and Auburn isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, but it was nice to see Alabama dominating up front.

The linebackers looked better with the line doing its thing, and the secondary was solid as well. Kool Aid McKinstry started in place of Jalyn Armour-Davis and held his own quite well. He even pulled a veteran move early in the game by drawing a holding call on a screen pass that would have been a big first down for Auburn. Brian Branch made some big time tackles in run support, and Josh Jobe grabbed an interception that seemed to lift some weight off of his shoulders.

Now, about that offense.

As Saban mentioned after the game, if nothing else you have to credit them for not quitting on a night when nothing seemed to go right. Going 97 yards in just over a minute, against a solid defense, is always impressive. Add in a dime for the tying touchdown on a clutch grab by a freshman forced into action, and you have something truly special. We have been waiting all year for a major contribution from the highly rated 2021 receiver class, and it came at a critical moment. Perhaps we see more of Ja’Corey Brooks going forward.

Before that drive, though? Woof.

Young was seeing ghosts at times, which is understandable on a night when he was sacked seven times. Nothing was clicking. When he’d throw a great ball, it was often dropped. He missed a few open receivers, and took a couple of unnecessary sacks. Penalties wiped out big plays on a couple of occasions. The running game went from barely passable to nonexistent when Brian Robinson left. The pass protection was particularly awful, though it got better when Seth McLaughlin and Chris Owens entered the game. Owens replacing Damieon George was strictly a performance thing, but Saban said after the game that Darrian Dalcourt had been trying to battle through an ankle injury and McLaughlin came in because it was hampering him.

It’s still hard to believe that they managed to lose a Biletnikoff finalist to a targeting call on a punt return, but it happened. Thank the stars that it happened in the first half and not the second, which would have put him out next week. That was the right call by the officials, but they were positively awful overall. The earhole non-call went Alabama’s way, but so many did not, including a non-call on a deep ball where it appeared that the DB intentionally interfered because he was beat, plus a horrible roughing the passer call on Dallas Turner. Alabama had 129 penalty yards to Auburn’s 52, and much of it was dubious. Welcome to Jordan Hare.

The special teams were uneven at best. There was a 34 yard punt on 4th and 35. Paul Tyson was benched from his job as the holder on field goals when he dropped a snap. They ran into the kicker on a long field goal, but it was declined. And, of course, Williams’ targeting foul set up Auburn’s only touchdown in regulation.

Alabama will be written off by most going into next week. They will very likely be #5 when the new playoff rankings come out, replaced in the top four by Oklahoma State. Georgia will be expected to win the game, and most will probably pick them to win big. This team has a shot, though. The way the defense has stuffed the run in recent weeks has been impressive, and that will be a requirement if they are to pull the upset. We will also need to see a passing game that looks more like the one we saw against Arkansas than those seen against LSU and Auburn. If they put it all together, who knows? Back in 2009 they needed two blocked field goals to beat a 7-6 Tennessee team, then a late touchdown drive to beat 1 7-6 Auburn team, before playing Tim Tebow and Florida in a SEC Championship Game that was supposed to be a coronation. I think we all know what happened in that one.

This is where we are, folks. Alabama has followed up perhaps the greatest season in CFB history, and greatest exodus of talent in school history, with a trip to Atlanta and 11-1 regular season. This team has flaws, but they never quit. At this point, it’s appropriate to have plenty of hope but few expectations where the playoff is concerned. Hopefully they can put it all together next week. If they do, it will be something to behold.

Roll Tide.