Second Half Impressions From the 2017 Iron Bowl
By: Larry Burton
To start the second half, Alabama came out with a “Enough of this bullshit!” attitude and simply ran the ball down the Tigers throats and scored in less than two minutes. It was if at half time Saban told the team to go out there and play Alabama football and they certainly responded.
Now if the Tide could manage a few three and outs and keep that attitude, the crowd would start sitting on their hands and maybe getting a jump on the traffic.
Instead the Tigers started taking hunks of yardage aided with Alabama penalties got Auburn inside the 30 with a first down. Two nothing plays gave Alabama a chance to escape and when Stidham was forced to throw the ball away on third down, on came the Auburn kicker who made it a one point game with 10:42 to go.
Now could the Tide answer and quiet the crowd? There was a feeling of a change of momentum with Alabama’s quick score, but could it continue?
Keith Holcombe seems like he’s trying to bully folks on kickoff returns blocking way away from the ball carrier and continuing bully the guy till the final moment.
If the crowd needed a reason to go nuts, a third and five with the ball on the 28 did it and when Hurts pass to Scarbrough failed to get the necessary yardage, the crowd was right back in it and it seemed Alabama had at least momentarily lost a chance to get and keep the crowd out of it.
Auburn had the ball at the 31 and the crowd once again. What’s bad is that Alabama’s defense had yet to show they were folks who could quiet the crowd.
Auburn was desperate to get their running game going but two Johnson runs netted just five yards and once again it was Stidham who hit a man on a crossing route for 27. Almost back in field goal range, the crowd was back into it. Tyronne Trusdell put good pressure on what became a throw away ball, but on the next play, Stidham evaded the pressure and ran for a first down. After a no gain run from Johnson, Stidham called his own number on a quarterback draw for another first down to the 12. Stidham was now the most effective runner on the Auburn team.
That got it close enough for Auburn to punch it in and with 3:02 left in the third quarter, the crowd and Auburn were back in the lead and might MO had now swung back to the team in blue.
Alabama needed some magic and got it from Trevon Diggs with a huge kickoff return to the Auburn 39. An offsides penalty against Alabama made the crowd go wild, then a pass interference got them angry. Two bang bang runs got a first down to the 18, followed by an incomplete and a short pass to Jacobs made it third and five. It was deafening. So deafening in fact that it caused a delay of game penalty because the team maybe couldn’t hear the snap. Saban confirmed this later in the post game press conference.
And when it appeared that Alabama got a lucky bounce TD, the crowd let the refs know what they thought with a deafening chorus from the stands. Once the refs confirmed it touched the ground, my ears rang. Then the unthinkable happened, Alabama who never and I mean never does this, botched a hold on a chip shot field goal and turned the ball over.
Stidham went back to work completing a pass for a first down and the third quarter was in the books. This was going to be a war and unfortunately for the Tide, they now had to play an invigorated Auburn team and the crowd for the fourth quarter.
To start that fourth quarter Kerryon Johnson finally broke a long run to get it inside Alabama territory and then Stidham kept surgically cutting away at the Alabama secondary getting a throw down to the 20. Then he did it with his legs, running one in from the 20. An injured Alabama player, being carried off the field seemed the fitting situation of the Alabama team now. Auburn lined up for a two point conversion and failed. Still Auburn had a 12 point lead, lots of momentum and that huge crowed who I couldn’t understand how they still had vocal chords this late into the game. Watching the ending of this game later on TV, you can’t really hear the crowd noise for what is really was. They drown it down on TV so you can hear the announcers.
We would learn later, Stidham ran that ball in because Johnson’s shoulder was about to play out and they wanted to limit any more damage to shoulder that wasn’t necessary, but he made a good decoy because Alabama had no way of knowing just how bad that shoulder was becoming.
If Alabama had another famous fourth quarter miracle in their arsenal, now would the time to start pulling it out of the bag. Finally the television crew talked about how wild the crowd noise was, but believe me, you couldn’t tell it by watching TV.
It appeared they would try and make a game out of it, but they couldn’t as a few first downs were all undone by an errant snap that game Auburn the ball at the 41 and more effectively, the game. But they dodged that bullet because of a penalty, but with another shot at a first down, that one too went unconverted. You could feel the Alabama balloon just had no more air in it after that. Foster could have caught it and lunged forward for the first, but uncharacteristically didn’t do that. At 9:02, Auburn with the ball, the clock ticking, you could feel that the game was slipping away for Alabama.
Alabama had to stop Auburn on third and four and they did, but an offsides call gave them the first. As Kerryon Johnson went down without a hit, his shoulder killing him, you sort of felt that Auburn’s offensive output may be in jeopardy and when Auburn’s last real running back got injured on the next play, you just had to wonder had Auburn scored enough and could they keep Alabama off the board?
The crowd seemed to know it was up to the defense and the roar let the defense know that they were firmly behind them. Could the Alabama offense that had seemed dead since that first drive in the second half do anything with the ball? With 5:33 left and about 80 yards to go it was a tall order. Hurts scrambled and Jacobs finished the first down yardage. Hurts hit one pass, through behind another for no gain and on another third down, Hurts legs bailed out the Tide for now.
Finally after a short scramble, Hurts finally found Ridley again and got them to the 30. A no gain and then a false start by Womack, who had just given up a sack put Alabama back five and Hurts took a dumb sack on the next play instead of getting rid of the ball. Now on third and 22 with 2:43 left on the clock, Alabama would have two plays to try and pull off not just a first down, but to keep their scant hopes alive. The crowd knew this too and the stadium simply vibrated from the noise.
As the ball was snapped, Hurts never took his eyes off Calvin Ridley who stumbled and Hurts missed. What Hurts missed by staring down Ridley was a wide open Jerry Jeudy who was wide open in the seam for a sure TD. On the next play, Hurts threw the ball past the line of scrimmage and took away any chance of Alabama completing the ball and converting the first. With 2:29 left in the game, it was over, Auburn had just to kill the clock. With no timeouts, Alabama watched the seconds and their hopes of an undefeated season all slipping away.
Saturday night many things happened. Gus not only saved his job at Auburn, but forced Auburn into conceding him control over future decisions including perhaps the new athletic director. Auburn had denied Alabama an SEC Championship, even if they later win another national championship. Lastly the national championship was thrown into possible chaos. And in my opinion the thing that made it all happen was the crowd. They were absolutely electric all night long, absolutely the loudest crowd I’ve ever heard and I’m 60 years old and seen hundred of football games in stadiums all over the SEC. They were the gas the kept the Auburn fire going.
Leaving the stadium after the post game interviews, the fans who had been so vocal all night long, were finally quiet and gracious in their victory. They had done their part and were now content so simply use their mouths for smiling and smile they did. Those smiles they, the crowd earned, as much as the players and coaches who also did their part.
Finally, for the first time since 1969, Auburn had beaten Alabama by more than 10 points. They didn’t need a miracle, they didn’t need a freak play, they beat Alabama in a plain old fashioned wood shed whipping. The Auburn defense did what no other defense could do and the crowd was there too, pushing the players on. To me, that was the difference that fueled the win and for Auburn, what a sweet win it was.
Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter