The Alabama offense made plenty of plays on the Auburn defense in Saturday’s edition of the Iron Bowl. With the game on the line late, however, the Tigers’ defense tightened up and finally stopped the Tide.
The Tigers dug down deep in the final minutes of Saturday’s showdown with Alabama, thwarting a promising fourth-quarter drive that reached the red zone by stuffing two runs and batting a third-down pass back to Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.
The big stop — which led to a field-goal attempt that Alabama missed — capped off a night on which the Auburn defense helped its offense’s cause with two pick-sixes but also struggled to consistently shut down one of the most dynamic offenses in the country.
“We just had to keep fighting,” Auburn linebacker Zakoby McClain said. “(Defensive coordinator Kevin) Steele told us on the sidelines to keep fighting. Fifteen rounds. It’s a boxing match, so just keep going.”
The Auburn offense put the Tigers on top 48-45 with 8:08 to go in the fourth quarter, meaning the Crimson Tide had plenty of time to respond. Even with time still on their side, Alabama went to work quickly.
Jones seemed to push Auburn to the brink almost immediately, as he started the drive by hitting Henry Ruggs III on a 28-yard completion that moved the Crimson Tide all the way into Auburn territory. Five plays later, Auburn had Alabama in a fourth-and-7 situation only for Jones to escape the pocket and move the chains on an 18-yard scramble.
Three plays later, Alabama running back Najee Harris and Jones got Alabama all the way to the Auburn 10-yard line to set up a first-and-goal situation. Even with their backs against the wall, the Tigers’ defenders said afterward there was no sense of panic on their side.
“There wasn’t no pressure. There wasn’t no pressure at all,” Auburn safety Smoke Monday said. “We just knew if you do your job, something is going to come up out of it. That’s all we focused on. We focused on doing our job and communicating because it was really loud. We had to communicate the call. That’s what we did.
“Coach always said if we get 11 sets of cleats in the ground, nobody can stop us.”
The Tigers hit Harris with a one-yard loss on first down before a false start moved Alabama back an additional five yards. Jones ran to make up for those five yards on second down before his third-down pass was tipped by defensive lineman Derrick Brown, who sent the ball back in Jones’ direction.
With little choice in the matter, Jones caught his own pass and was taken down for a loss of one yard. The stellar play by Brown, who ended the night with seven tackles and three-and-a-half for loss, has become nothing but commonplace during his time with the Tigers.
“I mean, Coach always tells us big-time players make big-time plays in big-time situations,” Brown said. “Coach Steele called the defense, and I was able to do my job and be able to affect the game.”
Alabama racked up 515 total yards and five touchdowns on Auburn’s vaunted defense, but none of that mattered once Brown and his teammates got their final stop. All those numbers were left worthless once Crimson Tide kicker Joseph Bulovas’ 30-yard attempted ricocheted off the left upright, leaving Auburn’s offense with the chance to run the clock out.
Monday talked after the game about having to dig in deep at the end and relayed a story Steele had told the group in the team hotel before Saturday’s matchup. Steele shared the words of Muhammad Ali, who said in his boxing career he faced three types of fighters — the give-in fighters, the fighters who just didn’t care and the ones who would give it all they got.
Saturday’s showdown with the Crimson Tide had all the characteristics of the title bout the Auburn players talked it up to be. While they took their fair share of shots throughout the four quarters, the Tigers’ defenders proved in the end they were the third kind of fighters.
“We just had to dig deep. That’s what we did,” Monday said. “We just made sure we gave it all we got every single play and never held anything back. We knew we wouldn’t get this one back. The seniors won’t get this one back, so we had to go out with a bang.”