Auburn did not need a big comeback, and it did not need a Kick Six. For 60 minutes on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn had a decisively better football team than Alabama.
The No. 6 Tigers beat the No. 1 Crimson Tide 26-14, dealing Alabama its first loss of the 2017 season and first regular-season defeat since Sept. 19, 2015. It was more than just a statement-making Iron Bowl rivalry win for Auburn; the game decided the SEC West title, meaning that the Tigers will advance to Atlanta to meet SEC East winner Georgia for the conference championship next Saturday, with a playoff bid on the line. For the first time since 2013, Alabama will stay home on the first weekend of December.
Two weeks after blowing out then-No. 1 Georgia at home, Auburn took control of another game against a visiting No. 1 team early, going 95 yards in 12 plays on its second possession, capped by a three-yard jump pass from Kerryon Johnson to Nate Craig-Myers out of the wildcat for the lead. Alabama responded with a 36-yard Jalen Hurts touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy in the second quarter, and Auburn took a 10-7 lead into halftime thanks to a Daniel Carlson field goal.
Briefly in the third quarter, Alabama appeared poised to take over the game: It came out of the locker room and charged right down the field behind Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, who gained 79 yards on only five plays.
It did not end up being a sign of things to come. Auburn sandwiched a field goal and a 69-yard touchdown drive around an Alabama three-and-out. After the Crimson Tide botched a field goal snap, Auburn went right down the field again, with Jarrett Stidham running it in from 16 yards out for the 26-14 lead.
Alabama got a break in the fourth quarter when a bad fourth-down snap was negated by a replay review that ruled Auburn had 12 men on the field, but the Tigers came up with the fourth-down stop anyway. From there, Auburn put the game away.
Beyond the first drive of the second half, this looked nothing like a typical Alabama performance. It mishandled snaps. It didn't convert a third down until the fourth quarter. It averaged over six yards per play, but it made too many mistakes on offense and Scarbrough and Harris got only six carries each. Its defense couldn't get off the field, as Auburn ran 17 more plays, kept possession for 36 minutes and converted 9 of 18 third downs.
Auburn got 104 yards and a TD on the ground from Kerryon Johnson -- who left the game with a shoulder injury -- and a stellar outing from Stidham, who completed 21 of 28 for 237 yards, with 139 of those yards going to receiver Ryan Davis. The Tigers more effectively sustained drives, and their defense -- which went underappreciated until the Georgia game -- got the stops they needed down the stretch to seal the win.
Auburn is now 13-9 against Alabama when both teams are ranked in the AP poll. It is 5-3 when both teams are ranked in the top 10. The 14-point margin of victory is its largest in an Iron Bowl since a 49-26 win in 1969.
The Tigers have two losses to Clemson and LSU, but they were No. 6 in last week's playoff rankings and now own double-digit wins over both Georgia and Alabama, two of the most impressive wins by any team all season. Beat Georgia again, and Auburn will surely become the first two-loss team to make the playoff.
Alabama will sit at home next week and let others decide its fate. At 11-1, Alabama will be in the thick of the playoff conversation, but its best wins are against LSU (which lost to Troy) and Mississippi State (which is 8-4). The Crimson Tide are probably one of the four best teams, but they don't necessarily have the resume to prove it. Still, they'll have a great chance to make it if either Oklahoma (vs. TCU) or Wisconsin (vs. Ohio State) loses next week.
"It's so hard to do - 2 out of 3 weeks play the No. 1 team. Our guys did it. We beat 'em handily." pic.twitter.com/CDSGzrUlXa- SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) November 26, 2017
The Crimson Tide's national championship dreams aren't gone yet, but their playoff fate is out of their hands. Auburn, meanwhile, entered November with a 6-2 record, knowing it needed to win at Texas A&M and somehow beat both undefeated Georgia and undefeated Alabama at home to win the SEC West and have a chance to rebound for a playoff bid. The Tigers did just that, winning each of those games by double digits.
The next week will be filled with debate about Alabama and its playoff worthiness. For the time being, the bigger story is that Auburn left no doubt about who the better team was on Saturday.