Auburn entered its matchup with a No. 1 Alabama team on a hot streak, and that carried over into the game. Auburn largely dominated and won every aspect of the game. The game was not as close as the final score or stats indicated, as much of Alabama’s success came late in the game during what was garbage time, or when the game was already lost.
Auburn attacked the edges with screens and short passes often and introduced some crossing routes which, while nothing too fancy, were a first for Auburn and caught Alabama off guard.
This play was run often by Auburn, and is part of what lead to receiver Ryan Davis’s career day. The defense is playing off the receivers, and Davis starts the play by exploding off the line like he is going to go deep. The corner that is covering him backpedals and gets ready to cover the deep route, despite having already been about 7 yards off of Davis.
When Davis stops and cuts back to catch the ball, he has so much room that the quick hitch he ran serves as a screen pass. Davis makes a man miss and picks up the first down. This exploitation of Alabama’s defense would continue throughout the game as Gus Malzahn outsmarted Alabama’s defensive coaches time and time again.
This catch would be the first of Davis' career day.
This is the play that everyone is talking about, the play that will be shown on highlight reels for years to come.
Auburn lines up with Kerryon Johnson taking the direct snap with a motion over the middle. Johnson then takes a few steps forward to fake the run before jumping and throwing the ball to a wide open Nate Craig-Myers for a touchdown.
This play has literally been being set up all year. Auburn has almost always had Johnson just run up the middle out of the wildcat, with some occasional trickery, but nothing has ever shown jump pass. Malzahn and company were saving this play for a special moment, and it delivered when called upon.
Auburn would line up a linemen or fullback at receiver to block for screens. On this play, the linemen lines up as a receiver in order to block for Johnson, and although he does not land a perfect block, he stalls the defender enough for Johnson to get a first down.
As part of the crossing routes that Auburn implemented, receivers would commonly stack at the line of scrimmage to help one be wide open during the play. On this play, receivers Davis and Craig-Myers both run basic drag routes, with Craig-Myers going about 5 yards deeper on his.
The Alabama defense completely loses track of Davis as he picks up an easy first down. The design of this play is similar to the philosophy behind a pick play, the receivers help each other get open. It worked time and time again as Davis caught several of these throughout the game. (2:17 2nd quarter)
Here is another crossing pattern Auburn utilized throughout the game. Auburn has three receivers line up on one side of the field. This forces the inside receiver, Will Hastings, to be covered by the outside linebacker, Mack Wilson.
Hastings is arguably the quickest receiver Auburn has, and there is not a linebacker in the country that will be able to cover him. Mack goes to jam Hastings as soon as they are near each other, and whether by design or just improvisation on Hastings part, Mack whiffs and looks silly doing it.
Hastings breaks free and is wide open for a big gain that would set up and Auburn field goal. CBS' Gary Danielson actually highlights the matchup before the snap.
Here is another example of Auburn stacking two receivers who run the same route at different depths. Davis motions over to be stacked on Craig-Myers, and then runs a quick slant and yet again picks up big yards off of it.
All year, Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham has seemed hesitant to run. He has rarely pulled it on read-options, and has always been a pass first quarterback.
In this game, he reminded everyone as to why he was considered a dual-threat prospect coming out of high school. Auburn had multiple designed runs for him, and every time they caught Alabama completely off guard.
On this quarterback draw, the center blocks down on the defensive tackle and the left guard pulls in order to block at the second level. Auburn guard Marquel Harrell makes the key block on this play, taking Alabama’s inside linebacker out of the play. This allows Stidham to pick up the big yardage and first down on the play.
Here is another play where Johnson lines up in the wild cat. This times he hands it to Davis on the sweep, who then tosses it to Stidham. Stidham looks downfield and sees that his option is covered, so he turns and throws it back to Davis who is wide open for another huge gain.
This play had a built in safety valve, a rarity for trick plays like this. Normally the play either works or it does not work all dependent on one thing. This time however, after the initial goal of the play fails, Stidham merely goes to his check down route, as he would on any other play. The defense is so unprepared for this that Davis is wide open and able to take it all the way to the 20.
It didn't hurt for Auburn that Davis put the best defensive back in the country on skates.
For the last play, we’ll look at Stidham’s game-sealing touchdown run. He pulls the read-option down and takes off, showing impressive speed. Davis provides a key block and Stidham powers his way into the end zone for the touchdown that would seal the game.
This play was all Stidham. He played a near perfect game against Alabama, and this play was the icing on the cake.
Auburn will travel to Atlanta to face Georgia for the SEC championship. The winner of that game will be all but a lock for the College Football Playoff. The Tigers will look to continue their success and make the playoff for the first time.