Six years to the day of the famous “Kick-Six” return by Auburn’s Chris Davis, a missed field goal once again played a significant role in another heartbreaking Iron Bowl loss for Alabama.
Of course, that wasn’t all that doomed the Crimson Tide in another Iron Bowl debacle inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Self-sabotaging penalties and turnovers, including a pair of interception returns for touchdowns thrown by sophomore quarterback Mac Jones, were compounded by repeated missed opportunities as No. 15 Auburn upended No. 5 Alabama, 48-45, on Saturday evening in the 84th Iron Bowl.
“We all feel bad, and we all should. I should feel bad that we didn’t do a better job with our team,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said of the loss. “And the players, it’s OK for them to feel bad too, because we didn’t play as well as I hoped that we would.
It was the Tigers’ sixth straight rivalry win over the Crimson Tide inside Jordan-Hare Stadium when both teams entered the Iron Bowl ranked in the Top-20.
And as was the case six years ago, another wild Iron Bowl in a decade of wild Iron Bowls came down to a field goal that never made it through the uprights as Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas’ potential game-tying 30-yard field goal bounced off the left upright with 2 minutes remaining Saturday.
“I don’t think anybody feels worse than Joe does about missing the kick,” Saban said of Bulovas. “He works hard, he’s a very contentious guy. He’s done a great job for us this year in taking over. I mean, nobody feels worse than him.
“(But) Joe’s play is just one play, and one play doesn’t win or lose the game. There were a lot of other plays in the game that put us in the situation that we were in. And I know nobody feels worse about it than Joe. He’s a great young man.”
Here are three takeaways from Alabama’s 48-45 loss in the Iron Bowl:
Harris paces Tua-less Tide offense
Rather than putting the game in Mac Jones’ hands, Alabama did the smart thing and tried to run through its talented tailback Najee Harris.
Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian repeated fed Harris early and often Saturday, helping him set or tie career highs with 27 carries for 146 rushing yards in his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season. Harris, who finished with 172 total yards in the game, now has 1,088 rushing yards in his first season as the Tide’s starter.
“I think we definitely weren’t going to put the game on Mac in terms of just throwing the ball all over the yard, and we wanted to have balance in the offense, I think Sark did a great job of that,” Saban said. “We moved the ball well enough on offense to win the game … obviously you can’t give the other team 14 points, that’s a problem, but we didn’t make the plays when we needed to make them in the last drive.
Harris accounted for five of the team’s first seven offensive plays for 59 yards before the opening drive stalled requiring a 43-yard field goal by Bulovas for a 3-0 lead with 8:27 left in the opening quarter.
Harris continued his charge with 91 total yards in the first quarter and then had 107 by halftime, including a 6-yard touchdown run for a 10-7 lead with 10:16 left in the second quarter.
Jones responds to costly mistakes
There’s no question Mac Jones was less than perfect in his first career road start inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
In fact, it was a pair of interception returns for touchdowns — a 29-yard pick-six by Auburn safety Smoke Monday with 5:36 left in the second quarter and a 100-yard return by Zakoby McCain with 6:31 remaining in the third -— that routinely let the host Tigers steal momentum in the second and third quarters Saturday.
Jones accepted full responsibility for them too.
“I was getting tackled and I should’ve thrown it away,” Jones said of his 100-yard interception return. “The other one, I’ve made that throw since I was 5 years old 10,000 times and I missed the throw to Jerry (Jeudy), they picked me off and scored. It was a bad throw and it’s my fault.”
But each time he made a mistake, Jones responded with points of his own, including leading a four-play 37-yard scoring drive on his next opportunity that was capped by a 3-yard touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs.
Following the McClain pick-six with 6:31 left in the third , Jones answered back on a five-play 63-yard drive that was capped by a 12-yard touchdown to receiver Jaylen Waddle to once again put Alabama back on top 38-37 with 4:57 left in the frame.
Again, kicking woes doom Tide
Alabama doesn’t have a good history with kickers, especially in the Iron Bowl.
Joseph Bulovas continues that trend Saturday when the redshirt sophomore missed a give-me 30-yard field goal with 2 minutes remaining that would’ve potentially tied the game at 48-all and possibly forced overtime.
Instead, as it did in 2013 — exactly six years ago — a field goal doomed the Tide.
Bulovas had previously made a 42-yard field goal to cap Alabama’s first offensive series in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, Auburn kicker Anders Carlson made all four of his field goals from 43-, 52-, 43- and 44-yards in the win.
That included Carlson’s 52-yarder with no time on the clock in the second quarter after the Tigers were granted an additional second of game time following a first-down play as time appeared to expire on the previous play. After some discussion by the officials, and plenty of argument from Alabama’s sideline, Auburn was allowed to get one final play off and cut the halftime deficit to 31-27 after a wild second quarter.
“The (official) beside me said they won’t be able to get it off anyway, and they waited and waited and waited and they wound the clock, and the guy snapped the ball and kicked it and they said it was good,” Saban said of the situation. “I think you can snap the ball with a second to go in a game, but whether they did or didn’t is not my judgement to make.”