Walsh’s Last Word: 10 things you might not have noticed from the Iron Bowl

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When the University of Alabama football team checks out the video from Saturday’s 26-14 loss at Auburn, the Crimson Tide will badly want another shot at the Tigers.

Not next year, but in the College Football Playoff in a few weeks.

That goes without saying, and it could potentially happen, but between missed tackles, bad decisions and poor execution, the Crimson Tide really gave the game away.

“We messed up a bunch,” Alabama junior defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne said after the game. “Everything they did on us was because of us. Us not lining up right; us not reading our keys; us not having our gaps. It is all on us.”

“It was just us messing up.”

He’s not wrong. Auburn played well and deserved to win the game, but time and time again the Crimson Tide made an uncharacteristic mistake or just had something not go right when it needed.

It was a lot more than the team that’s known for not having turnovers losing a fumble, a holder losing his grip on the ball or a wide receiver not stretching for a crucial first down.

For example, Alabama’s only completed pass on third down was a screen to junior running back Bo Scarbrough, who got tangled up by defensive back Stephen Roberts just shy of the first down. Instead of a potentially big play, the Crimson Tide went three-and-out and Auburn took the lead on its subsequent possession.

There was a lot of that kind of thing at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

• Play of the game: The longest play by either side was the 36-yard touchdown reception by freshman wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. Junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley appeared to be the intended target, but when sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts couldn’t get him the ball, he took a shot at the end zone that paid off.

• Player of the game: For Alabama, it was junior safety Ronnie Harrison and Da’RonPayne. Harrison was credited with 7 tackles, including the hard hit on running back Kerryon Johnson to keep him out of the end zone, while Payne had a fumble recovery and hurry to go with three tackles. For the game, it was Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham.

Alabama football-Crimson Tide football-Ronnie Harrison
Although Auburn eventually scored, Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison made a great play to keep Kerryon Johnson out of the end zone. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

• Statistic of the game: Alabama converted just 3 of 11 third-down opportunities, while Auburn was 9 of 18.

10 things you might not have noticed

1. J.C. Hassenauer ’s injury: The senior guard suffered a concussion on Alabama’s final play of the first quarter, when defensive tackle Dontavius Russell came off the snap and punched him square in the face, forcing his head to snap back. At minimum it should have resulted in a penalty that would have nullified the play. Alabama subsequently inserted junior Ross Pierschbacher, who was coming off a high ankle sprain suffered at Mississippi State and was limited. It definitely affected Alabama’s play calling in the run game because while Pierschbacher was effective going forward, he couldn’t do a lot side-to-side. Numerous carries were either behind him, or around the right side where he was essentially out of the play.

Alabama football-Crimson Tide fotball-J.C. Hassenauer-Dontavius Russell-CBS-Iron Bowl
CBS cameras caught the concussion blow from Dontavius Russell on J.C. Hassenauer.  (Christopher Walsh/SEC Country)

In other injury news, sophomore linebacker Anfernee Jennings appeared to suffer a stinger early in the game, but returned. Freshman linebacker Dylan Moses had an ankle sprain, but returned and led the team with 10 tackles. Senior safety Hootie Jones took a cut block in the knee from a fullback on Stidham’s touchdown run.

2. Who clapped? After the game, Alabama coach Nick Saban said a player told him that someone clapped before Alabama was set in third down, leading to the key botched snap at the Auburn 33-yard line. That someone was Auburn defensive back Tray Matthews and he didn’t do it just once, but twice.

Right after Auburn scored to go ahead 20-14 in the third quarter, Trevon Diggs returned the subsequent kickoff to the Auburn 39. On first down, Alabama was called for a false start after Matthews clapped in the middle of the Tigers’ defense.

On the third down in question, check out the upper right-hand corner of the screen, where Matthews again clapped:

3. In some ways, the game was closer than the score indicated: Alabama averaged 5.1 yards per snap, while Auburn was barely better at 5.2. For the first time all season, an opponent had more explosive plays, but again it was close. Saban defines an explosive play as a run of 13 yards or more and a pass 17 yards-plus. Alabama had seven explosive plays and Auburn notched nine, but nothing longer than 26 yards. Coming in, the Tigers had tallied 27 plays for 40-plus yards, which was tied for the national lead.

4. The defense really missed injured linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton: A good example was the flea-flicker play in which no one picked up the eventual receiver out of the backfield. At least four of Auburn’s explosive plays were where Hamilton would have likely been playing, plus having an experienced presence in the interior could have made a big difference in recognizing formations and adjustments.

5. Home vs. away: Alabama has played three of its four ranked opponents away from Bryant-Denny Stadium, but the overall difference statistically has still been a little surprising.

Offensive category Home Away
Scoring 44.8 31.0
Rushing yards 267.1 262.8
Passing yards 236.6 149.0
Third-down conversions 39-81 (48.1%) 22-66 (33.3%)

 Some of that is obviously due to crowd noise, and a lot of Alabama fans won’t want to admit this, but the atmosphere at Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn was much more intense than any game at Bryant-Denny Stadium this season.

For the game, Hurts was 13-for-23 passing. Among his incompletions were four he threw away, the deflected ball in the end zone that junior tight end Hale Hentges nearly caught, and on one the receiver got tangled up with the defender and fell.

“I think Jalen really competed in the game,” Saban said. “He made a lot of plays in the game. He scrambled a lot with his feet. We just didn’t do a good enough job in the passing game, but that is not just Jalen. We didn’t have good enough protection, we didn’t have guys getting open. Maybe we just needed to have better design in what we did, and he probably could have done a better job of reading some things.”

Alabama football-Alabama Crimson Tide-Auburn
Auburn defensive end Jeff Holland was constantly in Jalen Hurts’ face. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

6. Keep away: During its last three games against SEC opponents, all versus ranked teams, Alabama has had an edge in time of possession in only three of the 12 quarters played — the first and last against LSU (the fourth quarter was by two seconds), and the fourth quarter at Mississippi State. With Auburn having possession for 10:13 of the first quarter, it was the fifth time during that span Alabama had the ball for less than 5 minutes in a quarter.

7. Turnover tracker: Alabama had only one lost turnover in the game, Hurts’ fumble. Overall, the Crimson Tide have had just two passes intercepted, and six lost fumbles, with the total of eight still tied for the national lead. Alabama’s unofficial record for fewest lost turnovers is 12 in a 14-game season (0.86 average). This year’s team is averaging 0.67 per game.

8. A different animal: Stidham completed 12 passes in the first quarter, the most against any Saban-coached Alabama team. However, 8 of the passes were screens and 2 were under the coverage. The 94-yard touchdown drive included 5 screen passes as Auburn went sideline-to-sideline.

Here’s how Auburn’s first-quarter offensive numbers compared to last year’s totals at Alabama without Stidham.

Statistical category 2016 2017 1Q
Points 12 7
First downs 7 7
Rushing yards 66 32
Completion-yards 7-116 13-118

9. Penalty tracker: Alabama was credited with nine penalties overall, eight of which came in the second half. That also doesn’t include the offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties on Ridley and Roberts. One that was particularly costly was the delay of game in the red zone, on third-and-4 at the Auburn 19. Junior Damien Harris was the guilty player who was offside on the fourth-and-3 punt, but in his defense the long-snapper flinched and it wasn’t called.

Coming in, Auburn was averaging 4.2 penalties for 36.1 yards per game. The Tigers had four for 40 yards, one in each quarter. Overall, Alabama’s opponents are averaging 4.5 penalties for 31.9 yards, which ranks No. 122 and No. 130, respectively, out of 130 teams. The Crimson Tide are on pace to finish near the bottom of the statistical categories for the fifth time in seven years.

Of note: CBS announcer Gary Danielson — who called a terrific game — mentioned during the broadcast that visiting Georgia had been upset by the lack of holding calls by the Auburn secondary when the teams played on Nov. 11. Look for Alabama to make that same complaint, even though the games had different officiating crews. Matt Austin’s group worked the Georgia game and Matt Loeffler’s unit handled the Iron Bowl.

10. Strings snapped: Alabama’s streak of scoring in 49 straight quarters, dating back to the College Football Playoff semifinal against Washington, came to an end. So did its 100 percent success rate (13-for-13) of converting fourth downs.

The post Walsh’s Last Word: 10 things you might not have noticed from the Iron Bowl appeared first on SEC Country.

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