Coach Nick Saban has many catchphrases that he preaches to his team. He’ll say every player on the team needs to “do their job” or execute their assignments, but there is one word that is used above all others: Discipline.
In Alabama’s 48-45 loss to Auburn, the defensive performance was, in one word, the opposite of what Saban preaches: undisciplined.
“We came here with the idea that we needed to play with a lot of discipline, not get a lot of penalties, do a great job of executing and everyone doing their job on a consistent basis,” Saban said. “… People make decisions, through their discipline, that’s going to put the team first and help the team enhance the team’s chances of being successful and I don’t think we did that great.”
Alabama recorded a season-high 13 penalties for a total of 98 yards in the loss to the Tigers. These penalties came at crucial times in the game for the defense, as the unit would pin the Tiger offense into a third-and-long situation only to have a penalty allow an automatic first down.
In Auburn’s first drive of the fourth quarter, freshman linebacker Shane Lee was flagged for roughing the passer after Tiger quarterback Bo Nix completed a 2-yard pass to running back Shaun Shivers. The offense would have faced third-and-5 without the penalty, but the marker gave Auburn the first down on Alabama’s side of the field.
Seven plays later, Nix found Shivers again, this time in the end zone to give the Tigers a late three-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“Coach Saban has been telling us this year that the penalties, especially the undisciplined penalties, against a good team, you can’t make those penalties,” senior safety Jared Mayden said. “You can’t set yourself back against a good team that can actually stop what you’re doing. We just shot ourselves in the foot too much.”
Fellow safety, junior Xavier McKinney, added that the team has dealt with undisciplined plays and penalties “all year” and that “it shows up every time you play good teams.”
The Auburn offense tallied 354 total yards of offense against the Alabama defense, the fifth-highest total the Tigers have recorded against an SEC opponent this season.
In Auburn’s three losses this season, the offense mustered under 150 yards on the ground. Against Alabama, it totaled 181.
“We didn’t play the run very well, obviously,” Saban said. “To be honest with you, I kept asking the question, ‘Why are they splitting that run?’ Based on the defense that we called and the defense we were in, I thought we should be okay.”
Saban pointed to Nix’s rushing touchdown in the first quarter as an example of the defense’s inability to stop the Auburn rushing attack. After back-to-back rushes by running back JaTarvious Whitlow and a penalty against Alabama, the Tigers lined up with first-and-goal from the Alabama seven-yard line.
Nix faked the hand off to Whitlow, which fooled freshman defensive lineman Byron Young and freshman linebacker Christian Harris. Nix had a clear lane to the end zone and waltzed in for the score.
“Coach Saban preaches discipline, there is a number of older guys… that show discipline. Just because you are a young guy, when you come into the game we expect discipline,” Mayden said. “Young [or] old, you have to have discipline on the field.”