A typical season for Alabama and a most disappointing one for Auburn both reached a 12-game end on Saturday with a 29-13 Alabama victory over Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The greatest rivalry in college football has seen many incredible games, but this was not one of them. With the win, Alabama improves to 11-1 and will play Florida in the 24th SEC Championship in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Auburn finishes a disappointing 6-6.
The star for the Crimson Tide, as has been all season, was running back Derrick Henry. In trying to become Alabama’s second Heisman Trophy winner, Henry had his signature game in this game, with 46 carries for 271 yards and the game-finishing touchdown. It was a simple game plan executed to perfection, and the Tigers could do little about it. Couple that with Alabama’s stout defense against what has been a struggling Auburn offense all season, and the result was quite predictable.
Adam Griffith (the kicker at the wrong end of one of the most famous plays in football history on this same field two years ago), Auburn’s ‘Kick Six,’ redeemed himself going 5-5 on field goals. Had Alabama been better on third down, just 5-16, the score would have been much worse. Yet Auburn was just 3-15, continuing a theme they have had all season. Picked to win the conference in July, the Tigers never found their footing. Coach Gus Malzahn’s offense never got untracked, and nothing was going to change against their in-state rival.
The entire first half was made up of field goals, four for Alabama and two for Auburn, for a 12-6 Alabama lead. In the third quarter, Alabama quarterback Jake Coker delivered a big play just when his team needed it. One play after nearly throwing an interception that Auburn’s Blake Countess would have scored on, Coker eluded the charging pass rush and unfurled a beautiful 34-yard touchdown pass to a leaping ArDarius Stewart to push the lead to 19-6.
Undaunted, Auburn came back with a play reminiscent of famous plays of the past on this field. As Jeremy Johnson threw deep to Jason Smith, Smith tipped the ball up in the air before catching it, and ran 77 yards to pull Auburn back within 19-13.
In the fourth quarter, Alabama was the beneficiary of a controversial pass interference penalty, compounded as Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp lost all composure on the sideline, drawing a second 15-yard penalty and setting up Alabama for another field goal which made it 22-13 and put the game out of reach. Following the made kick, Muschamp had to be physically restrained by his assistants in an unfortunate display. Alabama then put the game away behind Henry, who controlled the clock, and then galloped 25 yards with 26 seconds remaining for the final margin.
Next for Alabama is another trip to the ‘Super Bowl of Southern Football,’ the SEC Championship—and for the eighth time on that stage, a meeting with Florida. But the Gators come in limping, smashed 27-2 by Florida State at home a week after having to go into overtime to beat 2-8 Florida Atlantic. The smoke has dried out and the mirrors are no longer working for Florida who are more than a two-touchdown underdog in this game.
It may be the biggest mismatch we have had in this game going in, and Alabama defeated Missouri 42-13 last year. I see no way Florida stays with Alabama. The Tide will defend their title, and return to the College Football Playoff.