AUBURN, Ala. — History will look back at the 2019 Iron Bowl as arguably the greatest game in this rivalry from start to finish.
Alabama redshirt sophomore quarterback Mac Jones was a big reason for that.
Making just his third career start due to injuries to Tua Tagovailoa and his first in a hostile environment, Jones completed 26 of 39 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns on an offense that amassed 515 yards overall. He also threw interceptions to Smoke Monday and Zakoby McClain that were returned for touchdowns in a contest where every single point mattered and the Crimson Tide came up short 48-45.
"I thought Mac played really well," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I thought the offensive line did a great job of blocking. We had balance, because we were able to run the ball effectively in the game. We struggled in the red zone a bit, and I thought that was the difference in the game, and the picks for touchdowns — those are the kinds of plays you never want to happen, and I'm sure Mac wishes he had those back.
"He was actually pressured pretty good on the one down by the goal line and had to get rid of the ball, but overall I thought he did a really good job in the game."
Monday's interception from 29 yards out at the 5:36 mark of the second quarter gave Auburn a 17-10 lead, but Jones regrouped to find DeVonta Smith for 33 yards to set up a score and connected with Jaylen Waddle on a 58-yard touchdown to give the Tide a 31-27 halftime lead.
Alabama was up 31-30 midway through the third quarter and was assembling an 11-play, 74-yard masterpiece when a first-and-goal Jones pass from the 2 was behind Najee Harris, who tipped the ball enough for McClain to snag it and race 100 yards for a stunning score that put the Tigers up 37-31.
"I think it was just a pressure look, and I should have just thrown it away and kicked the field goal," Jones said. "It's something I usually do 10 times out of 10 in practice, and the one time I try to squeeze it in there, it wasn't a good idea."
Saban said offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian did not alter the game plan much to accommodate Jones, other than to have Harris busy in the early going. Harris responded, rushing for 78 first-quarter yards on eight carries on his way to a 146-yard game.
Henry Ruggs led Alabama's receivers with 99 yards, with Waddle adding 98.
"We came up short. That's part of life, and we'll have to learn from it," Jones said. "It was a cool place to play. They won the game. It is what it is. Those two turnovers ended up being pretty big, and that's on me."
Said Waddle: "He doesn't play like a backup quarterback."
Waddle had not only 98 receiving yards but also a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that quickly erased the advantage Auburn attained with Monday's score.
"He's a dynamic returner who has great speed," Saban said. "He reads the blocks well and understands how to hit these things so that you can make big plays, and that was obviously a big play in the game."
Waddle had 132 yards on kickoff returns and finished with 230 all-purpose yards.
Auburn entered the Iron Bowl having rushed for an average of 112.7 yards in losses to Florida, LSU and Georgia. The Tigers collected 181 against the Tide, with redshirt sophomore running back Boobie Whitlow rushing 16 times for 114 yards and freshman quarterback Bo Nix carrying six times for 44 yards.
"We didn't play the run very well, obviously," Saban said. "To be honest, I kept asking, 'Why are they spitting these runs?' Based on the defense we called, I thought that we should be good. Their quarterback pulled the ball down and scored a touchdown when our guy who had the quarterback didn't take him.
"It was a combination I can't put my finger on right now."
Alabama holds a 46-37-1 series lead in the Iron Bowl. Harris had his sixth 100-yard game this season. Junior receiver Henry Ruggs caught his 24th career touchdown pass, trailing only classmate Jerry Jeudy (25) and Amari Cooper (31, 2012-14).
Auburn improved to 19-0 under Gus Malzahn when scoring a non-offensive touchdown. The Tigers returned two interceptions for scores against Alabama for the first time since their 1957 national championship season. Nix is now the top freshman passer in Auburn history with 2,366 yards, topping Stan White's 2,242 in 1990.