AUBURN, Alabama – Nick Saban described the play after the game as "quite unfair".
His Alabama Crimson Tide already had what would be a draw goal, but the game was not over. The visitors still had two times left, and stopped Auburn in the third and seventh, marking the fourth and fourth with 1:06 remaining.
But Auburn didn't kick the ball away. A penalty gave the home team the first drop. The tigers knelt a 48-45 victory at the Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare stadium.
"It worked very well," said coach Gus Malzahn.
So how did this happen?
Well, it starts with Jaylen Waddle, the dynamic return from Alabama. Auburn tried his best to prevent him from playing on special teams on Saturday – short kickoffs, high end pocs, you choose – and still didn't stop him from returning a 98 yard kickoff for a touchdown.
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But in this fourth and fourth place, Malzahn ended his offender with player Arryn Siposs lined up at the wide receiver. He was unwilling to do that, of course – the ball was at Auburn 26, which would have been Alabama's field goal.
No, the plan, he said, was to try to keep Waddle off the field and the defense in it. So when Auburn pointed Siposs into the backfield, the Alabama return coach would not return to make a kick shot.
"That's what caused all the confusion," said Malzahn, who added that Auburn had been working on it all season.
Alabama had its return unit on the field, but when it saw quarterback Bo Nix and the attack outside. Time was allowed to execute the defense back. But he forgot the punt returner standing 40 yards behind the play.
"It was something we had planned to get the ball out of 17 (Waddle) hands," said Sal Cannella, Auburn's wide receiver. "But they messed up. We were nice on our side."
"I really knew this was going to happen like that because we did it in practice," said defender Zakoby McClain. "I knew they wouldn't see it. I knew it would happen."
The officers signaled the Red Tide for a substitution violation as they had 12 men on the field. These five meters were enough to move the chains. Alabama has never had another chance with the ball.
"I really think it was a pretty unfair move at the end of the game," said Saban. "They replaced the player as a big recipient, so we put the punt team in and when the quarterback was still there we tried to put the defense back, I thought they should have given us a little more time to replace and get Waddle out as a returner (but) we were called to 12 guys in the field which was very disappointing.
"It was a very unusual circumstance, to say the least."