A decidedly un-Alabama moment caused the Crimson Tide to lose the 2019 Iron Bowl and, potentially, a spot in this year’s College Football Playoff. Nick Saban’s squad had forced a three-and-out against Auburn while down by three points late in the fourth quarter, and the Tigers were going to punt with less than a minute remaining.
Auburn, however, had other ideas. They lined up to go for a fourth-and-4 from their own 26 yard line, which led to the Crimson Tide keeping their defense on the field. But eventually, Alabama realized what was going on: Auburn had their special teams on the field lined up like it was going for it as a way to trick them, and the ensuing chaos that was bringing on their return team led to a 12 men on the field penalty that sealed the game for the Tigers.
Auburn lined up the punter at wide receiver to try to keep Waddle on the sideline. Bama noticed it late and took a penalty in the confusion. So simple, but so smart by Malzahn. Took the game straight out of Bama's hands pic.twitter.com/u0g87fz7as
— Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) December 1, 2019
It was a clever — and, because they had a time out, pretty low-risk — move by Auburn, one that ended up working to perfection. As Tigers coach Gus Malzahn explained after the game, the idea was to keep dynamic receiver/punt returner Jaylen Waddle off the field.
Auburn HC Gus Malzahn on the final punt that never happened: “We were trying to keep their punt returner off the field. We put our punter at the X, and we were gonna shift to get a punt without him out there.”
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) December 1, 2019
It ended up doing more than that, because a few knees later, Auburn came out on top, 48-45. Watching Alabama go down because of such a crucial mistake late in the game was stunning, and in his postgame press conference, Saban made it clear that he thought the Tigers’ substitution trick was “pretty unfair.”
Saban: "Pretty unfair play at the end of the game."
— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) December 1, 2019
As Ralph Russo of the Associated Press explained, though, he officials had no obligation to make sure that the Crimson Tide substituted properly.
Good showing here.
Alabama ran the 12th man on. Nobody was running off. Officials are told if teams are ready to play and one has 12, stop the play and call the foul. https://t.co/50yeLCcQg3
— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) December 1, 2019
It’s no surprise Saban is furious at how the end of the game went — losing out on a possible spot in the Playoff in part because his biggest rival pulled a fast one on him is a tough pill to swallow. But in that kind of situation, Auburn’s going to do everything it can to pick up a rivalry game victory, and on Saturday night, turning to something from completely out of left field worked out.