Saturday's Top 25: Without Saban, No. 1 Alabama rolls over No. 22 Auburn in Iron Bowl

By John Zenor
Associated Press

Tuscaloosa, Ala. — Once the Iron Bowl kicked off, Nick Saban was just another passionate, heavily invested fan who was powerless to help his team win.

His team still won – big.

Mac Jones passed for 302 yards and a career-high five touchdowns, highlighted by two long ones to DeVonta Smith, and No. 1 Alabam a rolled over rival No. 22 Auburn 42-13 on Saturday without Saban.

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) breaks free for a touchdown against Auburn.

The Crimson Tide (8-0, No. 1 playoff rankings) continued a dominating march through a schedule of all-Southeastern Conference games even minus its six-time national champion coach on the sideline.

Saban tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday and watched the game feed from home, witnessing the usual array of big plays with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian running the show.

Saban said his staff “did a marvelous job.”

“Sark did a nice job of managing things, and I sat here and felt a little helpless,” he said in a postgame zoom from his home. “I could see things and yell at things and listen to (wife) Miss Terry yell downstairs. It’s a little different. It still feels good to win.”

The result was much of the same against the Tigers (5-3), who suffered the second-most lopsided loss of Gus Malzahn’s coaching tenure. The only bigger margin was Alabama’s 52-21 win in the 2018 Iron Bowl.

“They’re a very, very talented team,” Malzahn said. “We knew that. Still we came in here with the mindset that we wanted to win the game. To beat a team like that on the road, you’ve got to make plays. We didn’t do that. We didn’t play our best. It’s obvious.”

Alabama started a string of three straight touchdowns with Jones’s 66-yard touchdown to Smith, who was streaking by himself downfield after Auburn defenders bit on a double move. He later added a 58-yard catch and run on a quick slant, sprinting away from the Tigers.

Smith had seven catches for 171 yards. Najee Smith ran for 96 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown, and John Metchie III caught a pair of scoring passes.

“Not having Coach Saban is difficult and obviously he did a great job preparing all of us for a situation like this. It was clear we were prepared for this situation.”

Bo Nix passed for 227 yards and ran for a late touchdown for the Tigers, but also threw two interceptions.

“It feels pretty terrible,” Nix said. “It’s not very fun. It just hurts because of everything that I’ve put into it, everything that I’ve done to get to this moment and just come up a lot short. It’s an awful feeling, to be honest with you.”

Saban, meanwhile, couldn’t talk to his team starting 90 minutes before kickoff though he still led the preparation during the week. He spoke to the media in his home’s “recruiting room,” filled with Alabama memorabilia, including an elephant head on the wall and a pool table with a crimson playing surface.

“That was really hard, especially the fact that I feel great,” the 69-year-old said.

(At) No. 4 Clemson 52, Pittsburgh 17: Trevor Lawrence threw for 403 yards and two touchdowns in his first game in five weeks – and likely last one at Death Valley – and Clemson throttled Pittsburgh.

Lawrence hadn’t seen the field on game day since beating Syracuse on Oct. 24. He tested positive for the coronavirus the following week and missed Clemson’s next two games, including its only loss this season – a 47-40 double OT defeat at No. 2 Notre Dame.

Lawrence led Clemson (8-1, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference; No. 3 CFP) a step closer to the league championship game and a likely rematch with the unbeaten Fighting Irish.

Cornell Powell had five catches for 176 yards, including a 43-yard TD catch off a flea-flicker pass from Lawrence. Powell also had an incredible, one-handed grab on a 70-yard pass to the Pitt 5 that set up Chez Mellusi’s 2-yard TD run for a 38-3 lead.

The Panthers (5-5, 4-5) were the last team to win at Clemson, 43-42 in 2016. Kenny Pickett threw four interceptions, three in the first eight minutes that all led to Clemson touchdowns.

(At) No. 5 Texas A&M 20, LSU 7: Isaiah Spiller ran for 141 yards and a touchdown and Buddy Johnson returned an interception for a score in Texas A&M’s victory over LSU.

Texas A&M (6-1, No. 5 CFP) extended its winning streak to five games in its first contest since Nov. 7 after the team couldn’t play the last two weeks because of a coronavirus outbreak.

The Aggies relied on their running game and tough defense on a wet and soggy night where rain fell steadily and made passing difficult. Kellen Mond had a season-low 105 yards passing in his first game this season without a touchdown pass. LSU’s 123rd-ranked pass defense broke up eight of his passes in the first half and finished with 11.

TJ Finley threw for 118 yards and had an interception in the second quarter for LSU (3-4) before he was benched for Max Johnson after Buddy Johnson’s Pick-6 in the third quarter.

(At) No. 6 Florida 34, Kentucky 10: Florida’s Kyle-to-Kyle connection returned in a big way after a two-week hiatus and put the Gators on the verge of the Southeastern Conference championship game.

Kyle Trask found Kyle Pitts for three touchdowns, including a 56-yarder in which the star tight end ran away from a cornerback, and Florida overcame a sluggish start to beat Kentucky.

It was Pitts’ first game since suffering a concussion and breaking his nose on a hit against Georgia. Trask wasted little time reconnecting with his favorite and most talented target.

Trask has 34 TD passes this season, moving him past 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and into a tie for third on the school’s single-season list. Only Danny Wuerffel (39 in 1996, 35 in 1995) is ahead of him. Rex Grossman also had 34 in 2001.

Trask did break one of Wuerffel’s records Saturday. He became the first player in school history with at least three TD passes in eight consecutive games, topping Wuerffel’s mark of seven set in 1996.

Trask is on pace to pass Wuerffel for TDs, too, and it could happen in his final two regular-season games. More importantly for Trask and the Gators (7-1), though, is they can clinch the East Division with a victory at Tennessee next week. The Wildcats are 3-6.

No. 13 Georgia 45, South Carolina 16: James Cook ran for 104 yards on just six carries and three other Georgia backs had at least 77 yards to help the Bulldogs overpower depleted South Carolina.

After throwing for 401 yards in his first start last week, Southern California transfer JT Daniels was 10 for 16 for 139 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

Georgia (6-2) led 21-0 after its first three possessions and before South Carolina (2-7) had a first down.

Zamir White ran 13 times for 84 yards, Kenny McIntosh had 79 yards on nine carries, and Daijun Edwards ran 14 times for 77 yards. The Bulldogs didn’t attempt a pass after Daniels’ 31-yard touchdown strike to Arian Smith on the first play of the fourth quarter gave them a 45-10 lead.

The Gamecocks can barely field a team. Nearly 20 players couldn’t play because of injuries or COVID-19 issues. Another seven players have opted out, several since the school fired coach Will Muschamp two weeks ago.

No. 16 Coastal Carolina 49, (at) Texas State 14: C.J. Marable ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns and Coastal Carolina wrapped up the Sun Belt Conference East Division title.

The Chanticleers (9-0, 7-0) had 572 yards of offense in extending their winning streak to 10 games. They moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision three seasons ago.

Texas State (2-10, 2-6) closed its sixth straight losing season. It was the second-most points the Bobcats have allowed in regulation this season.

(At) No. 21 Oklahoma State 50, Texas Tech 44: Dezmon Jackson rushed for career highs of 235 yards and three touchdowns and Oklahoma State bounced back from a disappointing loss to rival Oklahoma.

Jackson had 36 carries in part because the top two backs, Chuba Hubbard and LD Brown, did not play. The Cowboys still ran for a season-high 317 yards. Hubbard was out with a right ankle injury, and Brown has been fighting through injuries.

Spencer Sanders passed for 222 yards and ran for 78, and Tylan Wallace caught seven passes for 129 yards and a score for Oklahoma State (6-2, 5-2 Big 12).

Alan Bowman passed for 384 yards and three touchdowns for the Red Raiders (3-6, 2-6).

No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette 70, (at) Louisiana-Monroe 20: Levi Lewis passed for three touchdowns and ran for two more in less than three quarters, and Louisiana-Lafayette routed winless Louisiana-Monroe.

Running backs Trey Regas and Elijah Mitchell each rushed for more than 90 yards and scored a touchdown apiece for Louisiana-Lafayette (8-1, 6-1 Sun Belt). Bralen Trahan returned an interception 53 yards for a score during a second quarter in which ULL scored four straight touchdowns,

The Ragin’ Cajuns have won five straight since their lone loss to 16th-ranked and unbeaten Coastal Carolina, which is scheduled to host ULL in the Sun Belt title game Dec. 19.

Jeremy Hunt had one touchdown passing and one rushing for Louisiana-Monroe (0-9, 0-6).