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Another Iron Bowl Thriller

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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The 84th edition of college football's most famed series came with a season's worth of storylines.

The Iron Bowl always delivers.

Saturday's edition offered drama, unpredictability and a game that absolutely nobody saw coming. It's not the fact that the showdown was close or that Auburn won that stands as a surprise; how the Tigers defeated Alabama, and the wild way the contest unfolded, is now part of rivalry lore. In a pairing between a true freshman signal caller in Bo Nix and a reserve in Mac Jones, a 48-45 Auburn victory, all of the way up until the game's indistinguishable finish, completely defied all of the odds.

First and foremost, given the collective inexperience under center, the absence of the injured Tua Tagovailoa and the defensive talent on both sides, many expected a deliberate defensive slugfest. There were some big plays defensively, just not in the way most saw coming; the Tigers, for example, returned two interceptions for touchdowns, with Smoke Monday and Zakoby McClain combined to go 129 yards, the latter going the complete distance of the field, for scores.

Entering the afternoon as the big question nationally, Jones largely played very well, completing 26-of-39 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns, his two interceptions proving costly. The idea of Jones topping the 300-yard mark with four scores, leading Alabama to 45 points and the Crimson Tide losing is one that seems strange. A late missed field goal that would have tied the game proved costly. What is odd is that the final play from scrimmage that ultimately setup Joseph Bulovas' try was a completion from Jones, batted in the air by Derrick Brown, to himself.

Such, beautifully for the orange-and-blue, was Saturday's serendipity.

A game with no script, one where 48 total points were scored in the second quarter, came with a unceremonious close. After the missed field goal attempt, Alabama forced a corresponding Auburn fourth down likely set to give the Crimson Tide good field position with roughly one minute remaining. Of all things, Alabama was whistled for a substitution infracture; on 4th-and-4, the five-yard flag gave the Tigers the first down and the victory. That call, notably, was the Crimson Tide's 13th penalty, the most of the Nick Saban era in Tuscaloosa.

The 84th edition of college football's most famed series came with a season's worth of storylines. Even halftime, with an Auburn field goal coming after a review of whether any time was left on the clock, came with controversey. The home team, of course, won by three.  

Close against LSU and close against Georgia, two foes currently in the College Football Playoff top four, Auburn's win was a monumental one for team and coach alike. Starting and developing a true freshman quarterback in Nix, who scored twice and dealing with one of the nation's toughest schedules, the Tigers' may now be poised for a top ten finish at 9-3. Head coach Gus Malzahn has Auburn back on the right side of the national narrative.  

Even with so much to digest, a few days post-Thanksgiving, moments still stand out. The Tigers' game-winning touchdown run from Shaun Shivers was the exclamation point on an emotional and spirited team effort. His passion, charging through defenders, stood out as much as the play. The defensive scores of Monday and McClain, a made-for-TV law firm name, now add "pick-six" to where the "kick-six" was made famous. In a losing effort, Alabama's Jaylen Waddle caught three touchdown passes and return a punt 98 yards for a touchdown. Jones, as mentioned, performed well.

The party on the Plains continues. Auburn's remarkable win shakes up the national picture and energizes a rivalry that never needs any extra inspiration. The history of the Iron Bowl is one without a parallel. What just transpired only adds to that tradition.  

This wasn't just a game as much as it was a story. It's one that will be told for years to come.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports