AUBURN, Ala. — Making a slew of mistakes at home against Arkansas or New Mexico State is one thing.
Excessive miscues against Auburn at Auburn is an entirely different matter.
There have been undefeated and top-ranked Alabama teams that have ventured into Jordan-Hare Stadium before only to come away beaten — the 2013 and 2017 matchups quickly come to mind — and the fifth-ranked Crimson Tide team that arrived Saturday turned out to be its own worst enemy in a thrilling 48-45 loss to Gus Malzahn's resilient Tigers.
Alabama threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns and racked up 13 penalties for 96 yards while dropping to 5-10 all-time in Jordan-Hare.
"The lesson to be learned here today is how important it is to be a disciplined team and how important it is to be accountable in people doing their job," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "Everybody has to make decisions that are going to enhance the team's chance of being successful. Whether you slap a guy in the head or rough a quarterback or don't snap the ball when we're supposed to or get five false starts — those things, to me, show that we need more discipline so that we can execute.
"I'm not criticizing anyone. I'm simply making the point that these are lessons that need to be learned. When you play good teams, that's when those things bite you. When you play someone not as good as you and you beat them because you're better than them, those things don't matter as much."
The Tide entered this Iron Bowl 10-1 and looking to state their case for a spot in the College Football Playoff despite not even winning the Southeastern Conference's Western Division, with LSU taking on East winner Georgia for the SEC title next weekend. Alabama made the four-team playoff field despite a 26-14 loss to Auburn two years ago and wound up winning the national championship.
Auburn's victory Saturday assured the sixth College Football Playoff being the first one that will not include its in-state rival.
"We own this state now for 365 days," Tigers junior linebacker K.J. Britt said. "There is nothing better than that."
The Tigers improved to 9-3 and atoned for earlier disappointments against Florida, LSU and Georgia. They are 3-3 against ranked teams at the time in which they've played and surely will move up from 15th in the playoff rankings.
Malzahn now has three wins over Saban, and Alabama's unprecedented decade of success includes just a 6-4 mark against Auburn.
"When you look at this whole season, we knew it was going to be a gauntlet," Malzahn said. "We played the toughest schedule in college football, and our guys hung in there."
While Saban is regarded as the best coach of this generation, Malzahn is often viewed as the trickiest or the most creative. He showed that with a little more than a minute remaining and the Tigers facing fourth-and-4 from their 26-yard line with Alabama out of timeouts.
"We were going to try to keep their punt returner off the field," Malzahn said. "So we put our punter at X (receiver), and we had our offense on the field. Then they had their punt return and they rushed their defense on and they forgot about their punt returner. We were going to go ahead and shift and have (quarterback Bo Nix) punt. We were just trying to find ways to keep him off the field.
"In that moment, we felt like if we could get the defense, we could kick it and flip the field. They were trying to rush people, and they got 12 (on the field) and we ended up winning the game."
Saban called that series of events "unfair."
"They substituted the punter as a wide receiver, so we put the punt team in," he said. "When the quarterback was still in there, we tried to put the defense back in, and I thought they should have given us as little more time to substitute and get Waddle out as a returner.
"We got caught for 12 guys on the field, and that was very disappointing. We're responsible for that as coaches, but it was a very unusual circumstance, to say the least."
The Tide were trailing 48-45 because — stop if this sounds familiar — they had experienced some kicking woes in Auburn. With two minutes remaining, Alabama had driven 52 yards in 12 plays only to have a 30-yard field-goal attempt by Joseph Bulovas hit the left upright.
In Alabama's 34-28 loss at Auburn in 2013, the "Kick Six" game, the Tide missed all four of their field-goal tries.
"I don't think anybody feels any worse than Joe does about missing the kick," Saban said. "He works hard. He's a very conscientious guy who has done a great job for us this year. Nobody feels worse than him. We all feel bad, and we should.
"I feel bad that we didn't do a better job with our team. It's OK for the players to feel bad, too, and Joe's play was just one play, and one play doesn't win or lose the game. There were a lot of other plays that put us in the situation we were in."
Auburn's three-point win also can be attributed to the final play of the first half, when a 17-yard pass from Nix to Boobie Whitlow appeared to run out the clock with the Tigers at the Alabama 34. Officials ruled Whitlow was down with one second left, and Anders Carlson drilled a 52-yarder to pull the Tigers within 31-27.
Carlson's kick capped a six-minute flurry in which the teams combined for 38 points.
"The guy beside me said, 'They won't be able to get it off anyway,' and they waited and waited and waited and wound the clock," Saban said when asked if an official explained the situation to him. "The guy snapped it, and the guy kicked it and they said it was good. I think you can snap it with a second to go, and whether they did or didn't is not my judgment."
As soon as the Tigers ran out the final seconds of the game, their fans quickly stormed the field. The Southeastern Conference is certain to impose a fine of significance, and the school will gladly pay it.
Auburn had a talented team that didn't win every game this season, but the Tigers prevailed in the one they wanted most.
For the Tide, another trip across the state ended in dejection, and they were looking inward for why that occurred.
"Coach Saban has been telling us all year that the penalties that we get, especially the undisciplined penalties — when you play a good team, you can't make those penalties because you set yourself back," senior safety Jared Mayden said. "We just shot ourselves in the foot too many times, and I don't attribute that to us being young.
"When you come here you know that Coach Saban will preach discipline, and there are enough older guys who show discipline so it shouldn't matter if you're young or old."