AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn said it felt like 2013, when Auburn rode the “Kick Six” miracle to within seconds of a national championship. Before the 82nd Iron Bowl, the Tigers brought the hero of that magical encounter — Chris Davis — back to Jordan-Hare Stadium and replayed the moment for a crowd that acted like it was happening again.
No more miracles were necessary, though. Unlike the abrupt ending four years ago, Nick Saban and the No. 1 Crimson Tide had plenty of time to absorb the shock.
For the second time in four years, Alabama watched its undefeated record get obliterated at Jordan-Hare Stadium, No. 6 Auburn thrashed its rival 26-14 and snapped a three-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide to win the SEC West and advance to next week’s conference championship game against No. 7 Georgia.
The winner of Auburn (10-2) and Georgia (11-1) — the Tigers won the first matchup 40-17 two weeks ago — is likely assured a playoff berth. While Alabama (11-1) is in serious danger of missing the College Football Playoff for the first time, it still could get in as a second SEC team, with one-loss Ohio State setting the precedent for non-conference champions last year.
Going against the nation’s top-ranked defense, Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham was brilliant in his first Iron Bowl, throwing for 237 yards, while running for 50 yards and a touchdown, to hand Alabama its first double-digit loss in more than seven years. Running back Kerryon Johnson had 104 yards rushing and a touchdown, along with a touchdown pass.
Initially, two of the country’s best teams brought out the best in each other, with the two dominant defenses inspiring creative play-calling on both sides.
On their second drive, the Tigers put together the longest drive (94 yards) against the Crimson Tide all season for the game’s first score. Johnson put up the first point with a Tim Tebow-like jump pass to Nate Craig-Myers for a 3-yard touchdown with 4:38 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers’ acclaimed defensive front lived up to its billing, constantly chasing Hurts from the pocket. Alabama briefly took advantage of its rival’s aggressiveness, faking a designed run for Hurts, who then unleashed a 36-yard touchdown pass to freshman Jerry Jeudy to tie the game with 8:31 remaining in the second quarter.
Daniel Carlson made a 33-yard field goal as time expired to put Auburn in front 10-7 at halftime. It was the first time Alabama had trailed at the half all season.
During the break, the Crimson Tide remembered they had the SEC’s best rushing attack. After Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough got a combined four carries in the first half, the duo combined for all 79 yards on a scoring drive that needed just five plays, capped by Scarborough’s 21-yard touchdown run to give Alabama its first lead of the game.
After Carlson cut the deficit to 14-13 with a 44-yard field goal, Stidham orchestrated another remarkable drive, dissecting Saban’s defense as an unlikely dual threat. Johnson then punched in a 1-yard run with 3:02 left, giving the Tigers a 20-14 lead.
Following a botched field goal by Alabama, Stidham made the run of his life on a 16-yard touchdown scramble, giving Auburn a 26-14 lead with 12:49 remaining.
Alabama’s string of three straight SEC titles was over. Its national championship hopes likely crushed, too.
The top team in the country wasn’t even the best team in its state.