AUBURN, Ala. _ Much of a kicker's consistency is based on confidence.
It had not been a banner few weeks for Auburn's special teams _ not that Saturday went much better, despite the win _ and specifically kicker Anders Carlson. Carlson missed his first two field goals in Auburn's 20-14 win over Ole Miss. He missed his only attempt against Georgia on the Tigers' opening drive of that game; it was a longer, 47-yard field goal attempt. Then came last week's sleep-fest against Samford.
The final score was never in doubt during that Samford game _ the Tigers were the far superior team and the rainy conditions limited Samford's offense _ but Carlson had his first field goal of the day blocked. He entered Saturday's Iron Bowl 13 of 20 on field goals this year, and 4 of 10 from 40-plus yards out. He made just two of his last six field goals before the Samford game.
But on a night that featured Tigers running back Shaun Shivers plowing through a defender (and knocking said defender's helmet off) en route to a touchdown, Alabama's kicking woes at Jordan-Hare continuing and a 100-yard pick six by Tigers linebacker Zakoby McClain, it was Carlson's leg that ultimately made the difference.
"I've always been the same," Carlson said, the echo of the fans who stormed Pat Dye Field finally quieting down. "I'm confident in what I do. Sometimes it doesn't go your way, but you've got to learn just to bounce back and keep going."
Carlson did bounce back against Alabama. He finished Auburn's 48-45 win 4 of 4 on field goals, with all of the kicks coming from 40-plus yards. But Carlson's longest of the afternoon, a 52-yarder right before the half, almost did not happen.
Tigers running back JaTarvious "Boobee" Whitlow sprinted for a first down with the clock winding down, but as he was tackled the clock struck zero and both benches jogged toward their respective locker rooms.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn argued that there was one second remaining, prompting a review. One second was placed back on the clock. Auburn had no timeouts _ the Tigers burned two of them after iffy clock management in the second quarter _ which prompted the field goal unit to execute a "whistle kick," as Carlson called it. The unit lined up and snapped the ball on the referee's whistle.
Carlson nailed the long field goal, Auburn fans cheered and Nick Saban was, to say the least, unhappy. Malzahn said it gave the Tigers momentum heading into the locker room.
Once again, an Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium was decided on a field-goal try after one second was placed back on the clock.
"I told my holder, 'just get ready for whistle kick,' " Carlson said. "It happened the way it did, and the whole field goal unit was ready. I don't know what happened _ a timeout, a flag or whatever _ but it turned out we had some time to talk through it. ... I play a small part in this team. I just did my job, and the other guys did their job."
The "other guys," especially on offense, put together arguably their most complete performance of the year against one of the more complete teams on their schedule.
The Tigers finished with 354 total yards (Alabama finished with a whopping 515 total yards) and both teams averaged more than five yards per play. Nix finished with 173 passing yards and one touchdown, and ran for another score. Nix was also the Tigers' second-leading rusher with 44 yards. Whitlow led Auburn with 114 rushing yards, and an average of more than seven yards per rush.
Saturday served as the first time Alabama has surrendered 48-plus points during Saban's tenure.
Defensively, the "other guys" struggled to contain Alabama's high-powered offense, mainly running back Nahjee Harris and receiver Jaylen Waddle, but came up big when it counted.
McClain and defensive back Smoke Monday each recorded interception return touchdowns, and the defense bent but didn't break on Alabama's final offensive drive, forcing the Crimson Tide into a 30-yard field goal to tie the game with two minutes left.
Carlson stood on the Tigers' sideline and watched as Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas line up for what's normally a makeable field goal for college kickers. The kick attempt struck the upright and fell harmlessly to the Pat Dye Field grass, then rolled toward the sideline along with Alabama's playoff hopes.
One of the highest scoring Iron Bowls in recent memory came down to a missed field goal. And four made ones by Auburn's redshirt sophomore kicker.
"He was just waiting on his moment," Malzahn said of Carlson. "He's a good kicker. We changed deep snappers about four or five games. That messes with everything. You start to get in a rhythm, and this will give him great confidence going forward. He's a great kicker.
"Moments like this will help him moving forward."
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