AUBURN — Two plays.
That’s all it took to tarnish what was otherwise an admirable game by Alabama’s Mac Jones.
Jones, the Crimson Tide’s redshirt sophomore quarterback, completed throws long and short and moved well in the pocket against the Auburn Tigers’ vaunted defense on Saturday, but two interceptions returned for touchdowns were fatal in a 48-45 loss.
The first was an overthrown out route to junior wide receiver Jerry Jeudy that was snatched by Auburn safety Smoke Monday.
The second was a potential 14-point swing: Jones, escaping pressure, threw behind junior running back Najee Harris at the goal line and Tigers linebacker Zakoby McClain took it 100 yards the other way.
“I was getting tackled; I should’ve thrown it away,” Jones said. “And the [first] one, I make that throw since I was five years old — 100,000 times. I missed the throw to Jerry and they picked me off and scored. It’s a bad throw and it’s my fault.”
On the drives immediately following those two interceptions, though, Jones accounted for 99 of the team’s 100 yards.
It started with a 33-yarder down the sideline to junior wide receiver DeVonta Smith, followed by a lofted touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Henry Ruggs III after Jones bobbled the snap.
After the second pick-six put Auburn up 37-31 midway through the third quarter, Jones threw a well-timed pass with anticipation out to the sideline to Ruggs, found Smith open over the middle and led sophomore wide receiver Jaylen Waddle perfectly to the front-left corner of the end zone to regain the lead.
“That’s just who Mac is,” Waddle said. “Maybe the media or outside people don’t know that, but that’s the kind of character he is. In practice, he’s got poise. That’s him.”
Waddle had a career game, becoming the first Alabama player ever to score four touchdowns in an Iron Bowl, per the CBS broadcast.
His 12-yarder from Jones joined a 58-yard catch-and-run where he blew past several Auburn defenders in the open field and a fourth-quarter jump ball where the 5-foot-10 receiver showed off his vertical.
He also rejuvenated the Alabama sideline with a 98-yard kickoff return immediately after Jones’ first interception.
“He’s a dynamic returner,” coach Nick Saban said. “He’s got great speed, he reads the blocks well, understands how to hit these things so we can make big plays. And that was obviously a big play in the game.”
Saban said after the game that red-zone struggles were the difference in the game. The Crimson Tide scored three touchdowns on five drives inside Auburn’s 20-yard line: Ruggs’ touchdown catch, Waddle’s reception in the front corner of the end zone and Harris’ leap over the goal line in the first quarter – his 18th scrimmage touchdown of the year.
The two failed red-zone drives were Jones’ goal-line interception and kicker Joseph Bulovas’ 30-yard field goal miss that would have tied the game with two minutes left.
Alabama outgained Auburn 515-354, but the offense didn’t get another chance to tie or win the game as Auburn ran out the clock.
“If we got the ball back I really would’ve had confidence in our guys to go down and score or kick a field goal,” Jones said.”
Harris rushed for 146 yards on a career-high 27 carries and added 26 yards on four catches. His 172 scrimmage yards were the second-most of his career.
The offense committed seven penalties, including six false starts. Junior right tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. had three of those, redshirt junior right guard Deonte Brown had two and junior left tackle Alex Leatherwood had one.
Leatherwood was also called for holding on Alabama’s first drive, which wiped a 37-yard touchdown off the board.
“We gotta be more disciplined in what we do,” Waddle said. “I think penalties really hurt us.”
The loss to Auburn marks the first time since 2010 that Alabama has lost multiple games in the regular season. More importantly, it all but assures that the Crimson Tide will be left out of the College Football Playoff for the first time in the playoff’s six-year history.
“We wanted to have balance in the offense,” Saban said. “I think Sark [offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian] did a great job of that. We moved the ball well enough on offense to win the game. … We didn’t make the plays when we needed to make them.”