AUBURN – Coach Nick Saban had seen the fissures in his defense. LSU and Mississippi State had found the cracks in recent weeks. Auburn was finally able to burst through to beat Alabama, 26-14, on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The loss uncovered the weaknesses that Alabama had guarded in recent games.
“We weren’t able to sustain any consistency in how we played,” Saban said. “Same thing on defense, really. We would play three or four plays really well, get them in third-and-8, they’d get a first down. We’d do it again. Third down, they’d get another first down. That was pretty much the story.”
Auburn won with controlled possessions and sustained drives. The Tigers scored on drives of 12, 7, 9, 12 and 7 plays. No single play went longer than 25 yards in the entire game. The only trickeration came on a jump pass from running back Kerryon Johnson out of the wildcat formation that went for a touchdown.
“They came out and did everything that we’ve seen on film,” defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne said.
Third downs dealt the most damage to Alabama. The Crimson Tide defense was among the nation’s best on third downs earlier this season, only allowing its first five SEC opponents to convert 10 of 67 attempts. Auburn advanced on 9 of 18. The last three conference opponents have converted on a combined 26 of 52 third downs.
Auburn also picked up a first down on an offside penalty against Alabama on fourth down, bringing the defense back onto the field.
Five of Auburn’s third-down conversions came with five or more yards needed.
“We should have gotten off the field on third down,” Payne said. “That would have really helped us out. Probably the game would have ended a little bit different if we got off the field on third down.”
Johnson carried 30 times for 104 yards and a touchdown against Alabama before leaving late in the fourth quarter with an injury. He also had three catches for 21 yards and his touchdown pass. Johnson was the spine of Auburn’s offense.
But Stidham was its arms and legs. He completed 21 of 28 passes for 237 yards. He also rushed 12 times for a season-high 51 yards and a touchdown.
“This season, he hasn’t run the ball a whole lot,” defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said.
Payne grabbed Alabama’s only turnover of the game, a fumble recovery on the final play of the third quarter. That prevented Auburn from punching in a touchdown to take a 14-0 lead, but wasn’t enough to stop the Tigers all night.
Auburn scored on four straight possessions in the second and third quarters, then milked clock on its final two possessions. It didn’t convert a third down in the fourth quarter, but by then the offense was protecting a two-score lead.
“There were multiple third downs we could have played better,” Fitzpatick said. “We didn’t do what we were supposed to do, not executing our assignment, stuff like that. I guess you could say we didn’t finish what we needed to finish.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.