AUBURN — History will record that Alabama lost its final chance against Auburn in 2019 in the most peculiar of ways, with an illegal substitution penalty that gifted the Tigers a first down and allowed them to run out the clock in a 48-45 win Saturday.
Memories will probably go back a couple of minutes earlier, when Alabama’s last drive ended in the least peculiar of ways, banging a 30-yard field goal attempt off the upright to prevent the game from being tied with two minutes to go.
The truth will be that opportunity after opportunity slipped away before the endgame. Alabama kept giving itself chances but allowed too many of those slip away or go haywire. Auburn made enough plays to win and end the possibility of Alabama returning to the College Football Playoff for a sixth consecutive year.
“The disappointing thing to me is that we came here with the idea that we needed to play with a lot of discipline, not make a lot of penalties and make good decisions … and I don’t think we did that,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “I can promise you that we are very disappointed. I’m the head coach so I’m responsible for it.”
After a madhouse back-and-forth three quarters, Alabama took a 45-40 lead as Mac Jones, who threw for 335 yards in his first road game as a starter, completed a third touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle with 13:44 remaining. But the Crimson Tide defense could not get a stop as Auburn marched 77 yards for a touchdown on Shaun Shivers’ 11-yard run, adding a two-point conversion to take a 48-45 lead.
Alabama fought back, as it had all day, overcoming three false start penalties to a first-and-goal at the Auburn 9. The drive stalled there, in part because of one of the false starts, and Joseph Bulovas doinked the potential game-tying field goal attempt.
The Crimson Tide offense, led by Jones, had 515 total yards but Jones threw a pair of pick-six interceptions, a 29-yard return by Smoke Monday and a backbreaking 100-yard return by Zakoby McClain on a hurried Jones pass to Najee Harris.
“We moved the ball well, but you can’t give them two scores, that’s a problem,” Saban said. “You give up a 100-yard touchdown on an interception, that’s going to affect the game.”
In addition to his three touchdown catches, Waddle caught touchdown passes of 58, 12 and 28 yards and had 230 all-purpose yards.
Alabama finished the regular season at 10-2 and is expected to appear in a New Year’s Day Bowl, with the destination likely to be determined after the result of the SEC Championship Game, although the Orange Bowl seems like one possibility.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt