Evading Voodoo & A Pass Rush, Bryce Young Provides the Spark
Being the hero can be an overrated affair, but in a sport with so many unpredictable variables that can come into play, even the best teams need the next-level heroics of an elite quarterback.
While talks of how Alabama may not be that elite team it's been in the past circulate with national pundits and in whispers among the fanbase, the Crimson Tide still finds ways to win, even if the fashion is a bit unconventional.
Saturday's Iron Bowl wasn't the first to feature a tenacious Auburn pass rush, nor was it the first that required Alabama to rely on an unsung hero to catch a last-minute touchdown to alter the fates. It was, however, the first to require overtime to decide a victor in its 86-game history.
Auburn, despite crawling into the game on a back-breaking three-game losing streak, barely bowl eligible and without its (quite) vocal quarterback, exploited Alabama's biggest weaknesses. The Tigers also caught some of the usual breaks that happen on the plains.
A missed pass interference from Auburn's Roger McCreary on wide receiver Jameson Williams soon followed by Williams's ejection via a special teams targeting call began the voodoo experience of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The best football players find ways to circumvent the trials of a contest. While there's a justifiable fixation on the close-calls of an Iron Bowl, the game features many of the same ebbs and flows any other game could experience. Fans may not see it that way, but a strong-minded quarterback must.
"It's the Iron Bowl, there's a lot of emotion involved," Bryce Young said after the game. "This is something that we take very seriously and we have a lot of pride in."
Emotion can fuel a hungry defense. Auburn feasted on an evasive Young throughout the night, getting home for seven sacks.
Young said post-game the Tigers stuck to man concepts that were a bit surprising from a week of preparations. After a dismal first half, Alabama began making adjustments to balance the efforts of the Auburn defense.
Senior Chris Ownes stepped in at right tackle, a position he had once held before the team turned to Damieon George two weeks ago. Sophomore Seth McLaughlin took over at center for Darian Dalcourt, a result of his nagging ankle injury according to head coach Nick Saban.
But with the adjustments came other adversities. The loss of Williams forced Young to target John Metchie 24 times in the game, 18 times more than the next player, which happened to be Williams.
The late-game heroics of Brian Robinson afforded Alabama an extra breath, but the cost was an ankle injury.
So how does Young take the field with 1:35 on the clock without his most electric pass-catcher, his leading rusher and a makeshift offensive line that struggled in pass protection for the previous 58:25 of game time and complete a comeback that will be remembered in Crimson Tide lore long after his playing time is done? Faith and excitement in finishing the work.
"In a situation like that, that's such a great opportunity for us as a team," Young said. "I have all the faith in our guys. When we got put in that situation, I kind of got a little excited just knowing what we were capable of, what we could do.
We knew what was at stake. In a situation like that, there's no one I'd rather be with than the guys I have out there. Going into that... I had all the confidence in the world."
It's the kind of mettle that leads to rewards made of fine metals.
Young may not have had the eye-popping stats of a Heisman Trophy favorite, even with 317 yards and two scores, but moments speak louder than numbers. Few moments in Alabama football history can top the final minute of regulation and overtime Young orchestrated Saturday night.
Alabama may not be winning in the dominant fashion that fans have come to expect, whether justifiably or not. But being 11-1 after the Iron Bowl is all the Crimson Tide needed to keep its goals alive.
The SEC Championship against Georgia is next, but if ever there were a required 24-hour celebration of an Iron Bowl victory had to be respected, it's this one. Because the 2021 Crimson Tide may not have the same vision of the "ultimate team" in 2020. Instead, Saban's 2021 squad may be the "resilient team."
Despite the doubts and adversities, the small stature of Alabama's heroic quarterback hoisted it all on his back to gift his team and fans a great holiday gift: one more opportunity to write in what's been a page-turner story arc of the 2021 Crimson Tide.