Observations: Alabama 49, Auburn 27
The Tigers continued to run the ball well, but the defense struggled in Tuscaloosa. Still, things have shifted for the program as the coaching search continues.
RB Jarquez Hunter (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
There are no moral victories in the Iron Bowl. There’s too much history, too much passion, too much pride on the line.
So, even though an Auburn team with the worst record of any that had played inside Bryant-Denny Stadium over the last decade managed to score more points (27) than any of the last three trips there Saturday, it’s still a loss in the record books.
And it’s one that interim head coach Cadillac Williams, in what could very well be his last game in charge of his alma mater, says starts with him.
“I didn’t do a good enough job to get those guys prepared,” Williams said. “And I honestly feel that way — not just coach talk. At the end of the day, I had a group of men in those kids, and this staff, we did not do a good enough job of getting these guys prepared, locked in.”
Auburn made too many mistakes to get the win against an elite team that still, theoretically, has an outside shot at making the College Football Playoff. The talent gap was clear and decisive. The Tigers’ best-laid plans of playing clean, complimentary football were dashed by an uneven performance, particularly on defense.
“At the end of the day, we didn't get a W,” quarterback Robby Ashford said. “But you're always trying to look at the positives, the bright sides.”
Yes, there were positives. In addition to the 27 points on the board in Tuscaloosa, a rather one-dimensional Auburn offense recorded 300-plus rushing yards on Alabama for the first time since the 1983 Iron Bowl. The Tigers ran for 7.4 yards per carry for only the eighth time in an SEC game since 2000. They even had a lead of more than three points for the first time in Bryant-Denny Stadium since the 2014 shootout.
As anyone watching this team over the last month would have expected, Auburn fought until the bitter end of its regular season. The final result was a 49-27 loss that really didn’t feel close after the first quarter. But the process to get there, led by a resilient senior class, still looked better than some of its recent road Iron Bowls.
“I feel like everybody came together,” linebacker Cam Riley said. “I really wouldn't take it as a loss. Just a lesson learned.”
For the last time in the 2022 regular season, here are five postgame Observations from Auburn football’s performance. And, in lieu of Nerd Stats this time, the fifth and final Observation has some thoughts on the Tigers’ ongoing coaching search — but we close, as always, with the Quote of the Night.
QB Robby Ashford (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
A (healthy) Robby Ashford has real potential
Ashford didn’t want anyone outside of the program to know just how hurt he was this season. He said he suffered a sprained AC joint in the second half of the Missouri game, then he picked up even more injuries — a bruised rotator cuff, a sprained trap muscle, a sprained index finger.
Ashford, who was notably still Auburn’s best option at quarterback for most of the season despite these multiple injuries, said he didn’t want opponents to get that information. But the toll was immense.
“There were plenty of nights where I couldn't sleep because I was in so much pain,” Ashford said. “Shoulder swollen, a whole lot of weeks where I couldn't throw in practice until game day.”
Those injuries undoubtedly had a lot to do with Ashford’s rough passing numbers, especially toward the end of the season. But he still made plays for the Tigers game in and game out. On Saturday, he became the first Auburn player to rush for multiple touchdowns in the Iron Bowl since his interim head coach did it back in 2003 — the famous “Go Crazy” game.
“That guy’s a fighter,” Williams said. “He’s going to compete. He’s going to give you everything he has. The guy’s incredible. One of the better athletes I’ve been around. Ever. And, man, he was trying to will us to that win.”
Ashford ran the ball 13 times for 146 yards against Alabama, once you take out the sacks. More than half of those carries went for at least 10 yards, including three that went for at least 24 yards. Even though Alabama knew what was coming on defense, he still was a difference-maker.
While Ashford completed less than half of his passes again and had only a little more than 3 yards per attempt, he still unleashed his best throw in a college uniform Saturday — an absolute dime of a 20-yard touchdown to Ja’Varrius Johnson on third-and-7 after Alabama had scored 21 unanswered points.
“Ja'Varrius Johnson is one of the best receivers in the country,” Ashford said. “People didn't get to see it this year, but I feel like if I was healthy, my passing game would have been 100% better. There were a lot of days where I wasn't able to get those reps. I'm getting mental reps, but it's not the same as practice. You get out there and you're not as confident — you know what you're doing, but it's like, I haven't thrown this all week.
“So I feel like next year is going to be (Johnson’s) breakout year — and a breakout year for all of us.”