How Alabama football put together game-saving drive to force overtime in Iron Bowl

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

AUBURN — When Auburn downed the punt at the Alabama football 3-yard line, the Crimson Tide’s chances to score, much less win, looked slim at best.

Alabama hadn’t been able to score a touchdown all day against Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium. And now, to have any chance at winning the game, Alabama had to drive 97 yards. Yes, almost the entire field. And the Crimson Tide had only 1:35 left in regulation, down seven.

Nick Saban and the coaching staff had a simple message: You’ve got an opportunity for which you’ve worked all year long.

“This is the drive,” Saban told them. “We’re not going to get a lot more opportunities than this, so we’ve got to go out and execute. This is going to be our chance. You’ve got to make the most of it.”

Alabama certainly did that. Seventy-one seconds later, the Crimson Tide tied the game at 10, forcing overtime. No. 2 Alabama won in the fourth overtime, defeating Auburn 24-22 on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

It took Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) 12 plays filled with clutch moments and brilliance. 

“The guys did a really good job,” Saban said. “Excellent, actually.”

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Here’s a look at some of the crucial plays on a crucial drive that helped Alabama achieve the comeback.

Third-and-10, Alabama 3-yard line: Five Auburn defenders rushed after quarterback Bryce Young in the end zone. He didn't see anyone open initially, and he had to step up.

Right as he ran toward the line of scrimmage, he found John Metchie III across the middle. The catch was even more impressive, considering it came against Tigers cornerback Roger McCreary, who shut down just about any receiver he faced. 

“Over and over and over, we came up with plays when we needed to come up with plays,” Saban said.

Second-and-1, Alabama 34-yard line: Young hit freshman receiver Ja’Corey Brooks along the sideline for 21 yards with the defensive back in tight coverage.

Brooks managed to get both feet down. It would be the first of more highlights on this drive for Brooks.

Third-and-7, Auburn 42-yard-line: Young couldn’t complete the pass.

But at this point, it was better than the alternative. He was almost sacked, but right before he was brought to the ground, Young managed to get rid of the ball.

That was crucial in this moment because only 47 seconds remained. Alabama did not have any timeouts left, either. And Alabama wouldn't have been able to clock it on the crucial fourth down coming up next.

Fourth-and-7, Auburn 42-yard-line: Young found tight end Jahleel Billingsley on an out route toward the left sideline.

Billingsley has not had the best year, whether it be because he started the year in Saban’s doghouse or the times when he’s had a case of the drops. But he stepped up for Alabama on what was the most crucial play of the drive.

“I’ll tell you what,” Saban said. “Guys made some clutch plays man. There were some big catches out there on fourth down.”

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Second-and-10, Auburn 28-yard-line: Young couldn't complete the pass to a receiver, but once again, he managed to get rid of the ball before he was sacked. With so little time left, Young’s ability to be smart and crafty with the football saved Alabama when it had no room for a sack or an error in the finals seconds of the game.

Some of the passes Young didn’t complete were just as important as the ones he did on the final drive.

Third-and-10, Auburn 28-yard-line: With the defensive back draped over him, Brooks made his most important catch. He secured the pass over his shoulder in the end zone to give Alabama its first touchdown of the game with 24 seconds left.

“Great catch, good throw by Bryce,” Saban said.

Alabama especially needed Brooks to step up, because he entered the game as a replacement for Jameson Williams.

The Crimson Tide’s top receiver in yards and touchdowns had to exit in the second quarter when he was called for targeting while on the punt coverage team.

That left Alabama without the speedy weapon on whom the Tigers frequently had Roger McCreary.

“(Brooks) is someone who prepared and worked super hard throughout the offseason to the season, and tonight was a big night for him,” Young said. “And his number was called and he made a really big play. We had a one-on-one matchup. I had faith in Ja’Corey to win that matchup.”

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He won the matchup, and Alabama later won the game. 

All because the Crimson Tide pulled off remarkable 97-yard drive.

Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly