Auburn offense 'finally executed' in Iron Bowl win
Auburn thought it could run the ball on Alabama. Many, if not most Tiger fans were skeptical of that sentiment because of Auburn's inconsistency in getting push in the run game all season.
But at long last for Gus Malzahn's offense, the ground game came alive — and all the other cogs began to churn effectively as a result.
Auburn wasn't perfect, but led by 181 yards rushing and a versatile effort from its receiving corps, the Tiger offense played its best game of the year against a top opponent in its 48-45 win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"It was nothing different. We just finally executed the plays, made plays and things like that," Auburn receiver Seth Williams said. "We've always had a good offense."
Led by Boobee Whitlow and Bo Nix, the Tigers had little issue finding holes in the Crimson Tide front. Whitlow was especially effective finding space off tackle, gashing Alabama for runs of 15, 11 and 36 around the edge and into the secondary.
Whitlow, playing the healthiest he's been since the start of the year after midseason knee surgery, turned in his first 100-yard game since Sept. 14 vs. Kent State, finishing with 16 carries for 114 yards against the Tide — a 7.1-yard average per carry.
"Boobee, he definitely ran the ball well," Williams said. "That's what Malzahn also said — to beat this team, you've got to be physical and break tackles and keep the chains moving. That's what he did."
Nix's per-run output was even better. The true freshman showed no fear tucking the ball and taking off, averaging 7.3 yards per carry with six quarterback runs for 44 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. His eight scores on the ground this year are now behind only Bo Jackson's nine on the Auburn freshman rushing TD leaderboard.
“That was really important. That obviously kept us in rhythm throughout the night," Nix said of the run game. "That kept us moving the ball — big first and second downs to get us in third-and-manageable. We hit third downs, too. Running the ball like that, it keeps you in rhythm and an offense. You can expand your play calling.
"It’s just that you know that you can get positive yards, and that’s really special."
As for Auburn's much maligned offensive line, it became the only unit all season to not allow a sack to Alabama.
"That's big against that defense," Malzahn said of the rushing attack. "Our goal was 200. We were close. There were some tough roughs, some really tough runs. Their defensive front was excellent, and their secondary is as talented as anybody we've played."
And when Nix spun the ball through the air, he made some mistakes, but also made decisions consistent with those of a veteran quarterback on a big stage.
He completed passes to eight different receivers, finishing 15-for-30 for 179 yards and a touchdown. In terms of big plays through the air, Nix was well outplayed by Alabama quarterback Mac Jones' 335 yards and four passing touchdowns. But Nix didn't turn the ball over on the big stage. Jones threw two pick-sixes.
Nix also made history in his first Iron Bowl while his right arm was heating up in the second quarter. On a drive in which Nix completed 4 of 4 passes for 67 yards and a 14-yard touchdown to Sal Cannella, he passed Stan White (1990) for the most passing yards and touchdowns by a freshman quarterback in Auburn program history.
"It was just a matter of time before we all clicked," Cannella said.
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