It will live on for a multitude of reasons, some of which won’t be defined for some time. It won’t be remembered for one second—or even one specific moment, for that matter—but the 2014 Iron Bowl reminded us that it is the most entertaining and engaging spectacle college football has going right now.
Toss your obsession with rankings, committees and controversy aside, at least momentarily. There will be ample time to express outrage over what a group of human beings will decide when it comes to the College Football Playoff, and there is little doubt we will set the appropriate pieces of flammable items ablaze when the time is right.
Alabama’s 55-44 win over Auburn on Saturday reminded us that the satisfaction comes in the journey itself. It comes in the moments. It comes when two teams—two rivals with deep (and recent) football history—put on an absolute show in front of the entire football world. Again.
The greatest rivalry in college football delivered for the second consecutive year. And although it didn’t top the 2013 installment—and perhaps nothing ever will—it provided yet another brilliant chapter that will live on through generations.
The score told a story, but it didn’t encompass the entire evening. Without context, you could have pegged this for an SEC basketball game with poor free-throw shooting. Or, worse yet, an Alabama blowout.
Although the Crimson Tide bested the Tigers by double digits—with 99 points on the scoreboard between the two teams, one of many Iron Bowl records that fell Saturday evening—the margin of victory was deceptive.
This was a heavyweight fight, one that appeared to be working heavily in Auburn’s favor for much of the game, especially in the first half.
After fumbling away its first drive and giving up a quick Alabama score, Auburn responded with a surge of offense to close out the first half. Quarterback Nick Marshall was brilliant, while wideouts D'haquille Williams and Sammie Coates ran wild in the Alabama secondary.
Gus Malzahn’s team headed to the locker room with a 26-21 lead, which could have (and perhaps should have) been more had it not been for four Auburn field goals. Turn one or two of those kicks into scores, and the game's blueprint would have looked very different.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban provided the necessary intermission message with his team down.
Saban: "I told the guys at halftime that "I believe in you. I think we can win and I think we will win.'"— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) November 30, 2014
The second half told a different tale, and Saban’s words were put into action.
After he threw his third interception shortly after the third quarter began, it appeared that quarterback Blake Sims would be exiting the game. The cameras focused on backup Jake Coker as he loosened up on the sidelines, although the call to the bullpen never came.
Instead, Sims came back out the very next drive and flipped the game on its side. With the helping hands of Amari Cooper—the best wideout in all of college football and perhaps the best player overall—the two went to work.
Cooper finished with 13 catches for 224 yards—another new Iron Bowl record—and three touchdowns. His 39-yard score was so brilliantly crafted that offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin celebrated long before the pass left Sims’ hand.
Behold a Heisman moment, one of a few on the evening:
Sims later hit Cooper on a 75-yard touchdown. The QB followed this up with a touchdown run before finding wideout DeAndrew White in the back of end zone for a six-yard strike in the fourth quarter.
Tide running back Derrick Henry then found the end zone on a 25-yard score, which secured the victory for Alabama. In total, Alabama and Auburn tallied 1,169 yards. This, too, was an Iron Bowl record.
On the other side, Nick Marshall threw for 456 yards in a losing effort. Coates caught five passes for 206 yards, an average of 41.2 per catch. Auburn did exactly what we’ve grown accustomed to Auburn doing, and yet it was all overshadowed by Alabama’s second-half surge.
It was an expected offensive output given the way these teams were trending, although it was most certainly welcomed.
Nostradamus Nick spoke following the game, encompassing the matchup from a unique perspective.
Saban: "That was a tremendous college football game on both sides. We kept grinding on offense."— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) November 30, 2014
Alabama will head to Atlanta to take on Missouri in the SEC Championship Game next weekend. It might as well be called a quarterfinal game—at least for the Crimson Tide—because a victory will guarantee Saban’s team a spot in the first-ever playoff. Auburn, which dismantled the black and gold Tigers in this game last season, will await its bowl fate.
The two will now voyage on different paths, although this moment in time—the 2014 Iron Bowl—will live on.
It won’t be shown in excess like last year’s game-winning missed field goal that was returned for a touchdown by Chris Davis. The buzz never quite got there, nor would you expect it to reach this uncharted threshold.
But goodness was it entertaining. It was everything you hope a rivalry game will be and more. It was two of college football’s most storied programs delivering yet again in the biggest spotlight imaginable.
Before we dissect Auburn’s inevitable defensive changes to come or Alabama’s College Football Playoff aspirations, let’s allow this one to sink in a little longer. Let’s celebrate the journey. Again.
All hail the Iron Bowl.