Riding the formula that has led to a perfect record all season, the Alabama Crimson Tide let their size and strength on both sides of the ball carry them to a 30-12 victory over the Auburn Tigers in the 2016 Iron Bowl on Saturday.
Alabama overcame a sluggish first half on offense that featured two interceptions from quarterback Jalen Hurts before eventually pulling away.
Because of those early turnovers, Auburn only faced a 13-9 deficit at halftime despite this alarming stat from Aaron Suttles of the Tuscaloosa News:
Aaron Suttles @AaronSuttles
Total yardage: Alabama 263, Auburn 34. Four-point game.2016-11-26 22:20:53
Despite the lack of yardage, the Tigers had a chance to gain confidence because they were still in the game.
Instead, Alabama made adjustments at the half and stopped shooting itself in the foot to turn a close game into a blowout. The Crimson Tide started the third quarter with touchdowns on their first two possessions, with this fourth-down score from ArDarius Stewart being particularly slick, via SEC on CBS:
What a throw. What a move. It's another TD for Jalen Hurts and @AlabamaFTBL. #IronBowl https://t.co/kVWVDIKKx62016-11-26 23:14:12
Alabama's defense was tasked with carrying much of the load in the first half as a result of those turnovers, though that unit didn't seem to mind. Auburn didn't record a first down until there were about six minutes remaining in the second quarter.
ESPN Stats & Info noted the significance of Alabama's defensive dominance during the first half:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Alabama has held an SEC opponent to one first-half first down for fourth time under Nick Saban. Most recent: 2012 BCS title game vs LSU.2016-11-26 22:35:20
The Tigers had just 77 yards of total offense late in the third quarter before Eli Stove got behind Alabama's defense for a 55-yard strike from quarterback John Franklin III to get in the red zone for the first time.
Once again, though, Auburn couldn't figure out Alabama's defense and settled for another field goal to cut the deficit to 27-12. The Tigers, who came into the game averaging 297.8 rushing yards, were limited to 66 on the ground and 182 total yards.
Franklin came into the game during the third quarter because Jeremy Johnson was ineffective. The senior went just 4-of-13 for 34 yards before getting pulled.
ESPN's Booger McFarland expressed his concern about Johnson before the game started:
Jeremy Johnson starting in the Iron Bowl for Auburn..... not sure how to feel if I were an Auburn fan2016-11-26 19:22:42
With the benefit of hindsight, Auburn fans had no reason to believe Johnson was going to solve the Crimson Tide defense. Being fair, though, few have managed to solve that riddle over the last few seasons.
B/R's Barrett Sallee tried to put a positive spin on whatever it was Auburn's offense was attempting to do:
Barrett Sallee @BarrettSallee
Auburn's offense has been a traveshamockery today against Alabama... ...and has the fourth-highest point total against Alabama this year.2016-11-26 23:24:48
While a difficult loss for Auburn, going into Tuscaloosa against this particular Crimson Tide defense with an unstable quarterback situation was always a tall task. The Tigers kept things closer longer than they had any right to given how bad their offense looked.
The win sets up Alabama for its third straight appearance in the College Football Playoff, though Florida will look to play spoiler in the SEC Championship Game on December 3.
Even though this wasn't exactly vintage Alabama because of the sloppy offense early, it is a huge confidence booster for a team that doesn't need more reasons to believe it's the best in the country.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban expressed his happiness with the way his team pulled things together as the game went along.
"Great the way we turned it around and played in the second half, dominated the half," Saban said, per Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News.
Now that Alabama has taken care of business in the regular season, Saban allowed himself an opportunity to look toward the postseason, which begins against Florida in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 3.
"I'm really proud of our team—but the legacy of this team lies ahead," Saban said, per Hurt.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn put at least one positive spin on the outcome of this game.
"It was a tough loss. ... I am proud of our guys, the way they competed," Malzahn said, per Tom Green of AL.com. "Our defense played extremely well until they got worn down."