Alabama is in wait and see mode now after dropping the Iron Bowl against Auburn. Here is the Crimson Tide report card:
Rushing Offense: B-
The rushing numbers aren’t awful, but outside of one drive to begin the second half it never felt like Alabama was getting enough push on the ground to beat Auburn. The Tigers defensive plan was pretty simple. They were going to prevent Jalen Hurts beating them with game breaking runs, especially in designed pass situations when Hurts pulled the ball down and ran. The Alabama quarterback had 80 yards on 17 carries, but he never had a huge play to swing the momentum.
The first drive of the second half was indicative of how Alabama wanted to play this game. It was a five play touchdown drive that consisted of one pass and four rushes. After Damien Harris had burst open for a 31 yard gain, Bo Scarbrough rushed in a way that he rarely has in 2017. Scarbrough finished the drive with runs of 14 and 21 yards, the latter seeing him slide untouched through the defense to score in the corner of the end zone.
This momentum though could not be capitalized on and the running game stalled out for the rest of the half.
Passing Offense: C
Hurts was bang average in the passing game as he was comfortably out played by Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Hurts was 12-of-23 for 177 yards with one touchdown, but he missed a couple of open receivers late – including Jerry Jeudy who would have walked in for a touchdown – as the Auburn defensive pressure became too much for the Alabama offensive line to handle.
Auburn did an outstanding job of taking away Calvin Ridley, who had just three catches for 38 yards. Outside of one 26-yard hook up between Hurts and Ridley, the combination that has seen Alabama over the line in big games this year was maddeningly quiet. There were also issues with basic aspects of the game, such as when Hurts dropped consecutive snaps on a promising fourth quarter drive.
Rushing Defense: B-
Alabama actually rushed for considerably more yardage that Auburn – 209 yards compared to 168 – but it seemed like every time Auburn needed a big run they got one. The Auburn rushing yardage was dominated by to players, with Kerryon Johnson (104) and Stidham (51) combining for 155 yards on the ground. Johnson was hyped up coming into this as a potential game winner for the Tigers and he played up to that tag as he carried an astonishing 30 times into a brutal Alabama defensive front seven. It was no real surprise when Johnson left the game in the fourth quarter given the amount of hits he had been subjected to.
One telling start from the game is that Auburn was 50-percent on third down conversions to Alabama’s 27-percent. Those drive extending plays are what won this game for Auburn.
Passing Defense: B
Stidham was not able to throw for a touchdown, but his 21-of-28 performance was the driving factor behind his team’s win. To beat a defense like Alabama you have to complete at a high rate and Stidham’s 75-percent passing completion stat kept Alabama from being able to throw an extra safety in the box to deal with Johnson and his rushing onslaught.
The one touchdown that Alabama did give to Auburn through the air was on a trick play. Johnson lined up in the Wildcat formation, taking a direct snap and throwing a jump pass just before the line of scrimmage. It was a perfectly executed play and one that fooled the Crimson Tide defense in a big way.
Special Teams: D
We wondered coming in if this might be a case of two of the best special teams players in the nation deciding the game. Alabama punker J.K. Scott did his work with his leg, with four punts for 184 yards, including a 64 yard beauty that turned field position with the Crimson Tide backed up close to their won end zone. Auburn place kicker Daniel Carlson also did as expected, hitting all his field goal attempts.
There was a 55-yard kick return in this one from Trevon Diggs, a play that would usually be enough to ensure a positive grade. All that goodwill disappeared though as an Alabama field goal attempt that would have made it a three point game with over a quarter to play fell apart in spectacular style. Scott wasn’t able to catch the ball cleanly as the holder and Andy Pappanastos didn’t even get a shot at the posts. Auburn scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive and Alabama was never able to get back into the contest.
It is hard to see what Saban could really have done better to drive Alabama forward for a win here. The mistakes were mental and physical mistakes made by the players as opposed to scheme issues. You don’t want to point fingers, but a successful field goal and three point game with 15 minutes to play is a situation that Saban would have taken at the start of the game.
If you are being critical you could ask why the running game was so dominant for one series, then nothing more than middling the rest of the way. That would be the biggest complaint, but in general this was a game the Crimson Tide absolutely could have won if simple mistakes had been avoided.