Auburn, Ala. (EETV)- The 86th edition of the Iron Bowl between the Auburn Tigers (6-5) and Alabama Crimson Tide (10-1) featured its first overtime game in the rivalry's history with a four-overtime thriller inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers attempted to spoil Alabama's playoff hopes but fell short as Bryce Young led the Crimson Tide to a 24-22 comeback win.
Saturday's game was Senior Day for the Tigers as they looked to improve to .500 against the Crimson Tide in their careers at Auburn. Although 20.5 point underdogs in the matchup, the seniors would not go down without a fight in their last game in front of the Auburn family.
The question coming into the game was how Auburn's defense would fare against Alabama's high-powered offense. Top Heisman candidate Bryce Young has the Alabama offense averaging 44.6 points a game, with Auburn's defense giving up 20+ points in each of their last six games. However, everyone knows that statistics and records are pushed to the side when it comes to the Iron Bowl, especially when the Tigers welcome the Crimson Tide to Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The clash between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide had a slow start, with both teams' first drives ending in three-and-outs. Shockingly, every offensive drive for both teams in the first quarter resulted in a punt. On Alabama's first three drives of the game, they managed to move the chains just once. Auburn's defensive line shut down Alabama's rushing attack as the Crimson Tide averaged an abysmal -3.75 yards in the quarter.
Auburn's offense was not doing much better as they were pinned inside their own 12-yard line on two out of their three offensive possessions in the first half. However, they managed to keep the ball out of Bryce Young's hands as they controlled the ball for 10:33 of the first 15 minutes of play.
Auburn finally broke the 0-0 tie as T.J. Finley connected with Kobe Hudson for a 15-yard touchdown with 6:50 remaining in the second quarter. Neither team scored again in the first half, meaning the Tigers defense held Alabama's offense to their first scoreless half all season. Bryce Young was 6-16 for 70 yards at the half, and T.J. Finley was 10-16 for 98 yards and one touchdown.
Coming out of halftime, the Tiger's defense forced Alabama to their fourth three-and-out of the game. Auburn then went down the field and kicked a field goal to extend the lead to 10-0. After the break, nothing changed for either offense, as those were the only points scored in the third quarter.
Then came the fourth quarter. Every Auburn fan knew not to countout the opposing team after blowing a 28-3 lead against Mississippi State and then a 14-0 lead last week against South Carolina. Following a T.J. Finley interception, the Alabama offense moved the ball down the field and eventually found themselves with a first down and goal on the Auburn 9-yard line. The Tiger's defense then held Alabama to a field goal after sacking Bryce Young on third and goal. With just 8:44 remaining in the game, Auburn still maintained a one-score lead of 10-3.
"Their defense really played an outstanding game, but our receivers and Bryce (Young) made plays when we needed down the stretch," head coach Nick Saban said.
In the first overtime, Alabama stuck first with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Slade Bolden to give the Crimson Tide their first lead of the day. Auburn needed to score to keep the game going. T.J. Finley completed a 13-yard pass to Kobe Hudson to give the Tigers a first-and-goal from the four-yard line. After a couple of failed rushing attempts, the Tigers were down to two plays. It was then on third-and-goal that Landen King hauled in a tough reception for a five-yard touchdown to force the game into a second overtime.
Beginning in the third overtime, each team will attempt a one-play two-point conversion from the three-yard line. It was both teams' first time playing in a sudden-death type of overtime, and Alabama was be the first to try their attempt. They converted the attempt after John Metchie III found a soft spot in the Auburn defense and came up with the reception. The next Auburn play would decide if the game continued or if Alabama would come out victorious. T.J. Finley rolled to his right and then threw back across his body to John Samuel-Shenker, who ran behind his blocker into the endzone to tie the game back up at 22-22 and force a fourth overtime.
This time it was Auburn's turn to attempt their one-play attempt first. T.J. Finley dropped back and threw into tight coverage where the ball was broken up and wind up being incomplete. Alabama then had one play to keep their playoff hopes alive, or the game would be going to a fifth overtime. Bryce Young took the snap and threw a quick pass to the outside to John Metchie III, who beat Roger McCreary on a zig route and then beat him to the endzone to give the Crimson Tide the 24-22 win over the Tigers.
"I think they name some of these games in this series - the Iron Bowl - because there have been some great games, some great comebacks," head coach Nick Saban said. "I can't tell you how proud I am of the way our players kept competing in the game over and over and over."
Neither fan-base left Jordan-Hare Stadium feeling enthused to any extent. The comeback by Alabama marks the third straight week that Auburn has built up a 10+ point lead, all for the opposing team to come back from behind and defeat them. The loss drops them to an appalling 6-6 record, with a bowl game deciding if they finish with a winning or losing record.
"Expect four quarters," head coach Bryan Harsin began. "Expect to have yourself in a position in the fourth quarter to be able to win the game. We had those opportunities. I was proud of our guys. I told them that. I am proud of their fight, disappointed in the loss."
Alabama continues to survive and advance, but there have been numerous games this season that could have easily gone the other way and Alabama could be sitting with more than just one loss. They struggled against a suspect Auburn defense and will face the number one defense in the country, the Georgia Bulldogs, next week in the SEC Championship.
For Auburn, the season did not go as well as some hoped, but there is still a lot to play for as a bowl win will give Bryan Harsin a winning season in his first year at Auburn. Staff changes could be made between now and next season, but pump the breaks before giving up on Bryan Harsin and his coaching staff. None of the players on this Auburn team are his recruits and each of the last three losses could have and probably should have ended in an Auburn win.