Despite the roller coaster season in the SEC West, the ending was the predictable one: Alabama beating Auburn 55-44 to win the division and go to play for the conference title as the number one team in the nation, surviving the Blake Sims interception show by unleashing Amari Cooper, left wide open or in one on one coverage too many times, leaving the Tigers helpless in their attempts to ruin the Crimson Tide’s season for a second straight year.
Alabama jumped to a 14-3 lead after T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper ended up with the ball in the end zone, before Sims began his interception show. For someone who had only four interceptions through his first 340 career passing attempts, the series in the first half was brutal, getting picked off three times through his first 15 attempts. He made up for it in the second half by throwing three touchdown passes, two of them to a wide open Amari Cooper.
Cooper had a new record breaking (more like tying) day for him in his incredible college career, catching 13 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Of the five most productive reception performances in school history, three belong to Cooper who caught for 224 yards earlier this season against Tennessee. In the second half he was left open for man on man situations too many times, which is something no defense in college football has been able to handle so far.
The difference at the end of the day, besides the interceptions from Sims and the way he recovered from them while Nick Marshall had the opposite journey within the game, was conversion in the red zone. Alabama scored on all five trips to the red zone while Auburn made it into touchdowns only twice out of seven trips, settling for field goals five more times. The offense, with 55 points, surely deserves the main credit for this win, but the defensive stand on goal line and close to that situation was just as important.
Besides throwing four touchdowns passes Sims ran for one to open the fourth quarter, giving his team the lead. Alabama came back from being 33-21 down. At that time, after throwing his three interceptions, Sims was about to get benched with the backup quarterback warming up on the sidelines. But Sims came up big with a huge throw to Cooper in the third quarter to begin the turnaround, and Alabama scored on five consecutive drives, while the trick plays for Auburn have run their course.
In this game, unlike the shocking version from last season, it was all about Alabama. Auburn were here to try and ruin the show. They weren’t winning the division or going to the playoff. They just had the chance to spoil it for their most hated rivals, but couldn’t keep up with the offensive pace in the second half. This was a good Auburn team but not special, and not surprising, falling to a disappointing 4-4 in the SEC this season a year after coming out of nowhere to almost win the national championship.
This wasn’t a classic Iron Bowl. The teams set a new record for points in the game, breaking it by 24 points. Alabama have never won a game by allowing so many points. Some college basketball games don’t see so many points. It shows how the conference and the sport of college football have changed. This is no longer a smash mouth league, and this is no longer a smash mouth sport, at least not most of the time.
Alabama lost just one game this season, to Ole Miss. They did what they had to the rest of the way, including an overtime win over LSU on the road, barely winning against Mississippi State in the game that took them back to number one and now against Auburn with a tremendous offensive display in a game that was divided into a few mini-ones. Deserving is a strong word in such a subjective system of ranking and deciding who goes to play for championships, but it’s fair to say Alabama has done enough to deserve a shot and more than that.