TUSCALOOSA — Any remote chance of an Auburn comeback last week ended when Alabama linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton intercepted a pass from Chandler Cox at the Alabama 5-yard line with nine minutes remaining and the Crimson Tide leading 30-12.
Just in case, Alabama’s offense made sure the Tigers wouldn’t touch the ball for the remainder of the game. Led by a hard-nosed rushing attack, the Tide plowed its way to a 15-play, 58-yard drive ending with quarterback Jalen Hurts taking a knee as the final seconds ticked off the clock in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The drive was one of a few the Tide has been able to grind out this season when it has needed to bleed out the clock and finish off opponents. That ability to see off games and eliminate late drama is a big reason Alabama (12-0, 8-0 in the SEC) heads into Saturday’s SEC Championship Game sitting comfortably at No. 1 in the nation.
“I think that's what you want to be able to do so that you minimize the opportunities that the other team gets to be able to come back on you in the game,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “I think that was an outstanding job by our offense and a very good plan offensively as well to be able to get that done.”
The Tide was able to put together a similar drive against LSU earlier in the season. Leading the Tigers 10-0 with 12:32 left in the game, Alabama went on 15-play drive to take 9:51 off the clock, giving the Tigers the ball with 2:41 seconds to play and very little chance of a comeback.
Along with killing off the clock, the long drives tend to tire out opposing defenses. Often times that leads to big plays, as Alabama’s punishing running backs already pose as a big enough threat to well-rested defenders. That was the case last week, as freshman running back Josh Jacobs needed eight Auburn defenders to bring him down on a 26-yard run.
“I think we come out and that’s our mindset,” Alabama offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher said. “We just want to wear down our opponents. So we go in and make the corrections in the second half and just try to really get after them. I think we continue to have more success, and it shows that we are kind of more of a second-half team.”
Conversely, if Alabama's offense is spending a lot of time on the field, it means its defense is resting on the sideline. After putting its defense in some tight spots early on last week, Pierschbacher said he enjoyed being able to make up for it later on in the game.
“I think the defense has been able to bail us out on a lot of stuff this year,” he said. “And for us to do that and just kind of repay the favor and just know that you can control the ball, control the line of scrimmage and just keep getting first downs, it feels good.”
The Alabama offense hopes to have the same feeling by the end of Saturday’s game against Florida (8-3, 6-2), as the Tide takes on the Gators in the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta at 3 p.m.