Iron Bowl Upset: Auburn upends Alabama’s playoff hopes
Another wild, triumphant Iron Bowl finish turned Auburn’s field into a teeming mass of orange and blue.
A missed Alabama field goal again had much to do with it.
Shaun Shivers scored on an 11-yard run with 8:08 left to put No. 16 Auburn ahead and another failed kick wiped away the fifth-ranked Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes in a 48-45 victory for the 16th-ranked Tigers on Saturday.
Auburn (9-3, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) survived a final, marathon Crimson Tide drive when Joseph Bulovas’ 30-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright with 2:00 left.
Auburn couldn’t get a first down on JaTarvious Whitlow’s three runs while Alabama (10-2, 6-2) burned its final two time outs. But the Tide was called for illegal substitution after the Tigers lined up with the punter joining the offense, setting off confusion for the Tide and a fist-pumping celebration for coach Gus Malzahn.
“That’s the craziest game I’ve ever played in,” Shivers said.
Auburn fans stormed the field to celebrate another Iron Bowl thriller, filling it from end zone to end zone as they did in the 2013 Kick-Six game, when the Tigers’ Chris Davis returned a missed Tide field goal 109 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Davis led pre-game cheers on the field Saturday.
“When we play at home and we play them, we get to the fourth quarter, we find a way to win — 2013, 2017,” Malzahn said. “It kind of held true to the script tonight and our crowd has a lot to do with that. Our guys believed and our crowd willed us.”
The Tide had made the first five College Football Playoffs fields, but its case was damaged with a 46-41 loss to No. 1 LSU. The team’s in-state rival delivered the final blow.
Alabama coach Nick Saban deflected questions about the playoffs.
“I think the lesson to be learned is how important it is to be accountable,” Saban said. “When you play against good teams, that’s when these things bite you.”
He wasn’t pleased with the call for having 12 players on the field at the end, though.
“I really feel that it was a pretty unfair play at the end of the game where they substituted the punter as a wide receiver,” Saban said. “So we put the punt team in. And when the quarterback was back in there, we tried to put the defense back in. I thought they should have given us a little more time to substitute and get (Jaylen) Waddle out as a returner.”
Alabama worked more than six minutes off the clock before settling for Bulovas’ attempt, the latest costly kicking mishap for Saban and the Tide.
Quarterback Mac Jones, who had replaced injured star Tua Tagovailoa, scrambled for 18 yards on fourth-and-7 to get the Tide into easier field goal range. The drive stalled at the 13 when Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown batted a third-down pass back to Jones, who threw a pair of pick-sixes.
Auburn backup linebacker Zakoby McClain returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter when the ball bounced off the back of tailback Najee Harris and into McClain’s arms, setting up a sprint down the sideline. Smoke Monday returned another one 29 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
“It’s my fault,” Jones said. “And those two turnovers ended up being pretty big, so that’s on me.”
Waddle caught three touchdown passes and scored on a 98-yard kickoff return for the Tide, helping Alabama build a 45-40 fourth-quarter lead.
The 5-foot-7, 179-pound Shivers, who was playing the role of injured wide receiver Anthony Schwartz, delivered on his only carry. Whitlow took the direct snap and handed it to him. Shivers smashed into Xavier McKinney, knocking the safety’s helmet off on the way to the end zone. Bo Nix’s two-point pass to Shedrick Jackson made it 48-45.
“That was just pound and ground football,” Shivers said. “That’s all I knew growing up. I don’t fear anybody. I just had to make it happen. I knew that could have sealed the game because I knew our defense was going to hold on.”
Nix, a freshman who attended the 2013 game as a fan, passed and ran for a touchdown. The two-time high school state champion whose father was an Auburn quarterback clutched the game ball during interviews.
“That makes it my three state championships, I guess,” he said.
Alabama led 31-27 at halftime after the teams combined for 17 points over the final 1:06. Anders Carlson booted a 52-yard field goal after replay officials put one second back on the clock, three points that wound up being pivotal. Carlson made four field goals of 43 yards or more after some late-season struggles.
Jones finished 26-of-39 passing for 335 yards and four touchdowns. Najee Harris ran 27 times for 146 yards and a TD.
Alabama: Came in needing some help to make the playoffs, but wound up losing multiple regular-season games for the first time since 2010.
Auburn: The defense was uncharacteristically vulnerable but also delivered big plays. Whitlow ran for 115 yards. A huge win for a team that had fallen short against other top teams.
Emotions flared up a couple of times in the third quarter. Whitlow and Alabama were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for one altercation. Then Auburn receiver Seth Williams, who is from outside Tuscaloosa, was flagged for a push to linebacker Terrell Lewis’s head after tangling up with Trevon Diggs. That last one helped force Auburn to settle for the field goal.
Alabama awaits its bowl invitation with no title shot.
Auburn awaits a possibly better bowl destination than it expected coming into the game.