The Citadel refused to play the role of punching bag against Alabama on Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs turned a game that is typically used for working out kinks and resting starters into a battle.
At least, for a half.
Alabama eventually pulled away, dispatching The Citadel 50-17 behind an improved second half performance.
Coach Nick Saban allots his players 24 hours to enjoy a victory, but with a meeting against Auburn on the horizon, offensive lineman Jonah Williams doesn’t plan to utilize it.
“I’m probably going to enjoy it for about 2.4 (hours) and just start watching film on Auburn,” Williams said.
When Alabama faces Auburn next Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium, it won’t have the added weight of SEC championship implications. Alabama already clinched a trip to Atlanta, and a showdown with Georgia, with its win over LSU earlier this season.
However, the game will provide the Crimson Tide with an opportunity to avenge a 26-14 loss in Jordan-Hare Stadium last season.
“It’s a big game,” quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said. “When you grow up in Alabama, I heard it’s either you’re an Auburn fan or an Alabama fan. So it’s going to be packed this game, I know that, but it’s not like we haven’t had an opportunity to go into a game like this and try to perform not only as an offense, not only as a defense, but as a team.”
But, in maintaining the idea of a faceless opponent, Alabama’s players don’t anticipate approaching this year’s Iron Bowl with any added passion.
“You don’t want to play emotional,” Williams said. “I like to think of games more surgery than fistfight, you know what I mean? You can’t go in there emotional. You can’t think about it that way. Our preparation is going to be the same.”
The Crimson Tide has not lost to Auburn in consecutive years since Saban took over in 2007, winning its “revenge games” by an average margin of 25 points.
Alabama didn’t emerge from the game against The Citadel unscathed. Right guard Alex Leatherwood, who has started in every game so far this season, left the game with a twisted ankle. The severity of his injury is unclear. Senior running back Damien Harris sustained a mild concussion after landing awkwardly on a season-high 73-yard run.
Mistakes made against The Citadel will also need to be remedied.
“First half we didn’t play well at all and it showed on the score board,” wide receiver Henry Ruggs III said. “As a team we felt like that was an embarrassment to our fans because we didn’t come out and do the things we needed to do.”
Alabama lost the turnover battle for the second week in the row, losing two fumbles compared to The Citadel’s one. Alabama racked up 68 yards of penalties and allowed several big plays, including rushing touchdowns of 44 and 45 yards.
The Crimson Tide’s offensive line did prevent The Citadel from getting even one sack, which was a far cry from the four sacks it gave up to Mississippi State the week before.
It’s no secret that Auburn’s defensive front is more talented than The Citadel’s. Before games were played today, the Tigers’ defense was second (to Alabama) in the SEC in sacks with 31.
Protecting Tagovailoa like it did against The Citadel will be key if Alabama is to claim its 46th Iron Bowl victory and finish the regular season undefeated.