The 2019 Iron Bowl was among the Rivalry Weekend highlights, but more so for the Auburn Tigers and all of those college football fans rooting against Alabama.
The Crimson Tide fell, 48-45, to the Tigers and with that, their chances of getting a College Football Playoff spot officially ended.
A clever Auburn trick play ultimately helped them secure the win late in the game.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn fools Saban, Alabama players
Auburn’s trick play arrived with just over a minute remaining in the game, as the Tigers held a slim, 48-45 lead. They were facing a fourth-and-four situation at their own 26-yard line.
Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle is a dangerous return man and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn decided to use a trick play they’d practiced before. The goal was to prevent Waddle from getting a big return that may have given Alabama the lead or field position to help them tie.
So, while Auburn brought out their punter, Arryn Siposs, they also brought out their quarterback, Bo Nix, and running back JaTarvious Whitlow for the fourth down situation. Instead of using a punt formation, Siposs lined up as one of the receivers. Their lineup was perfectly legal as the referees quickly checked on it.
It caused confusion for the Crimson Tide players and coaching staff, though. At first, they were preparing for a punt return. However, they noticed the different Tigers offensive personnel lined up in the formation they were using. Alabama’s punt return unit quickly left the field so the defense could get back on the field.
Check out the Auburn formation for the trick play as well as the penalty starting at the 1:40 mark in the video below.
Basically, Auburn’s trick play was designed to confuse the defense into not having anyone back to return the punt. The end result was actually confusing the Crimson Tide into having 12 men on the field. An illegal substitution penalty was called. That five-yard penalty gave Auburn a first down rather than ever having to kick to Alabama’s dangerous kick returner. It also meant they could run the clock out as Alabama was all out of timeouts.
Malzahn, Saban talk about trick play
“We’ve had it [in the playbook], but this kick returner will make you do things you normally wouldn’t do,” Malzahn said regarding Waddle. “Our whole goal was not to let him beat us — of course he house called the one (kickoff for a touchdown), that was huge. We were just trying to find different ways.”
Saban wasn’t pleased with the call and felt maybe the officials should’ve given them more time to react to what was going on.
Nick Saban said in his postgame presser that he wished the refs had given his team more time to adjust to Auburn's punter substitution. pic.twitter.com/Lumhwk3jGI
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) December 1, 2019
“They substituted a punter as a wide receiver, so we put the punt team in. When the quarterback was still in there, we tried to put the defense back in,” he said post-game.
“I thought they should’ve given us a little more time to substitute and get Waddle out as a returner. We get called for 12 guys on the field. It was very disappointing. We’re responsible for that as coaches, but it was a very unusual circumstance, to say the least. Sometimes, when you have those, they should be viewed that way,” Saban said per Banner Society.
While the referees can allow more time for a team to set things up under unfair circumstances, there was nothing unfair or illegal about Auburn’s trick play. It simply confused one of the masterminds of college football and his staff. At the end of the day, Malzahn outsmarted one of college football’s greats en route to an impressive 48-45 Iron Bowl win.