Recap: Auburn vs. Alabama
Auburn, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - The 78th Iron Bowl will be remembered as one of the greatest in the storied rivalry between Auburn and Alabama.
Heck, maybe even one of the greatest games in college football history.
The fourth-ranked Auburn Tigers stunned the top-ranked and two-time defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide, 34-28, when Chris Davis fielded a missed field goal a yard short of the back of the end zone and used a convoy of blockers en route to a miraculous touchdown on the game's final play.
"They had their field goal team out there and it had some big guys on it," recalled first-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. "I thought (Davis) made a couple of guys who could tackle miss and (we) made some good blocks down our sideline to score the touchdown."
The incredible finish came two weeks after Auburn (11-1, 7-1 SEC) kept its national title hopes alive with a similarly unlikely win against Georgia.
Now, the Tigers are headed to Atlanta to face Missouri in the SEC Championship Game. The last seven SEC champions have gone on to win the BCS title, but this year's winner may need help with Florida State and Ohio State still being undefeated heading into their conference title games.
Alabama (11-1, 7-1) had plenty of chances to put the game away. Cade Foster missed three field goals -- two coming in the fourth quarter -- and head coach Nick Saban opted to keep his offense on the field on 4th-and-1 from the Auburn 13-yard line with less than six minutes remaining and the Tide up by seven.
T.J. Yeldon was stopped for no gain on the head-scratching decision, and Foster had his 44-yard try blocked on the ensuing possession.
"We have been a very good short yardage team all year," Saban said of his decision to bypass a short field goal attempt. "We had a field goal from that same spot that we missed. You cannot take it for granted that we could have made it. ... We have been a really good short yardage team but it just did not work out properly this time."
Auburn, trailing 28-21, took over at its own 35-yard line with 2:32 to go. Tre Mason, like he did the entire game, carried the Tigers into Alabama territory, and Nick Marshall faked as if he was going to run before finding Sammie Coates wide open downfield for a 39-yard touchdown with 32 seconds left.
Yeldon appeared to run out of bounds as the clock struck zero, but officials reviewed the play and put one second back on.
With Foster struggling, Saban chose Adam Griffith for the 57-yard attempt, and the redshirt freshman was well short of reaching the crossbar. Davis fielded the ball inches short of his foot landing on the chalk and went virtually untouched down the sideline as teammates surrounded him as he made his way down the field.
"I knew when I caught the ball I would have room to run, and I knew we had bigger guys on the field to protect," Davis said. "When I was running I said, 'God is good.'"
Davis was tackled by teammates in the end zone, and Jordan-Hare Stadium emptied onto the field to celebrate the incredible win.
Auburn had lost four of the previous five meetings, including a 49-0 drubbing in last year's showdown, which all but ended Gene Chizik's reign as head coach and brought in Malzahn as the new man in charge.
Mason made sure the Tigers wouldn't be embarrassed again, as he gashed the nation's top run defense for 164 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. Marshall ran for another 99 with a score and added two touchdowns through the air.
AJ McCarron threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns, including a 99-yard strike to Amari Cooper to break a 21-21 tie early in the fourth. The school- record touchdown appeared to be enough to run Alabama's win streak to 16, but the surprising turn of events has the Tide waiting for their postseason fate to be determined rather than them dictating it on their own.
"It was a great game," McCarron said. "We definitely didn't play our best game. But like I told our guys, hold your head high and be thankful for everything that you've got. Football is just a game. It's not life."
The Tigers had a week off to prepare for this hotly anticipated contest, and they looked ready early on despite Marshall under-throwing a wide open Ricardo Louis on Auburn's first possession. Louis, of course, hauled in a tipped desperation heave from Marshall in the final minute against Georgia to secure a 43-38 victory.
Marshall shook off the early missed opportunity the next time the Tigers touched the ball. Three plays after converting a 21-yard pass to Coates on 3rd-and-18, the junior quarterback kept it himself on a draw and went 45 yards untouched for a score.
It was Auburn's first offensive touchdown against its rival since Cam Newton rallied the Tigers to a 28-27 victory three years ago.
Alabama's first three drives were plagued by dropped passes, errant throws and special teams miscues, including Foster mistiming the snap and hooking a 44- yard field goal try wide left.
An 11-play, 67-yard march righted the ship as McCarron hit Jalston Fowler in the flat for a 3-yard score, and the Tide got the ball right back when Landon Collins stripped Mason and recovered the fumble at Auburn's 36.
McCarron put the Tide in front with 7:12 remaining in the half on a 20-yard toss to Kevin Norwood in the end zone, and Yeldon barreled into the end zone 3:24 later after Cooper ripped off a 28-yard run to the 1-yard line.
Mason brought Auburn fans back to their feet with a bulldozer-esque run for 40 yards, then went in for a much-needed 1-yard score just before the break.
Auburn took the second-half kickoff and went 69 yards in nine plays to pull even. Marshall ran for 16 yards and threw for 31 more, the last 13 going to C.J. Uzomah in tight coverage in the end zone.
Steven Clark twice pinned the Tide at the 1-yard line with textbook punts, but the Tide worked their way out both times. Cooper had a 54-yard grab late in the third quarter but later dropped a potential touchdown pass from McCarron. Foster wound up wildly missing a 33-yard field goal attempt after a false start penalty moved the kick back five yards.
Cooper didn't drop McCarron's deep toss the next time the Tide were backed up near their own end zone, as the 99-yard touchdown with 10:28 remaining broke the tie.Game Notes
Auburn improved to 4-8 all-time against No. 1 teams, its previous win coming
against Florida in 2001 ... Auburn was the highest ranked team Alabama has
ever played in a regular season game when the Crimson Tide were ranked No. 1
... This was the second time in series history both teams were ranked in the
Top-5 entering the game, the other being in 1971 ... Alabama was 47-0 under
Saban when winning the turnover margin ... The previous longest pass play in
Alabama history went for 94 yards from Freddie Kitchens to Michael Vaughn vs.
Florida in 1996 ... The Crimson Tide are now 73-4 under Saban when leading at
halftime ... Alabama still leads the all-time series, 42-35-1.