TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Perfection wasn’t going to come easily.
Auburn refused to give Alabama a free pass. In a game befitting the contentious nature of the Iron Bowl, Daniel Carlson kicked, and the Tigers' defense screamed against their in-state rivals, making the Crimson Tide fight their way to an unbeaten season on Saturday night.
Final score: Alabama 30, Auburn 12.
The win was the culmination of Alabama’s first undefeated regular season since 2009, but it was far from a flawless performance. Quarterback Jalen Hurts went from fab freshman to turnover machine, and Lane Kiffin once again called a perplexing game as offensive coordinator. Nick Saban’s face remained in a permanent state of consternation during the first half.
Still, Alabama would not be denied. You could feel the Tide sideline exhale when Hurts found ArDarius Stewart for a 38-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter to take an 18-point lead. Kiffin found Saban to give him a high-five, and a sold-out Bryant-Denny Stadium celebrated right along with them.
Auburn, without starting quarterback Sean White, stood no chance of a comeback. The Tigers managed minus-2 yards on their first two possessions and would have to wait a quarter and a half for their first, first down of the game. If not for Carlson’s four field goals, Alabama would have won in a landslide.
In what’s become a constant this season, Alabama’s defense has served as the ultimate safety blanket. Hurts struggled early with two interceptions and a pair of fumbles in the first half, but the pressure never became too much, and he wound up with 286 passing yards and two touchdowns. The rookie QB also ran for for his 12th touchdown of the season.
Saban’s team became the only Power 5 program to finish the regular season undefeated. And despite its flaws, there was nothing in Saturday’s win that would give the College Football Playoff selection committee reason to not keep the Tide at No. 1, where it has been all season.
Up next: the SEC championship game against Florida.
The Gators' defense will surely challenge Hurts and the Alabama offense, but it’s hard to imagine Jim McElwain’s often anemic offense doing any better than Auburn did.
The only thing keeping the Tide from the playoff now is time.