By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s defense still seems to have a wall erected at the goal line, and Jalen Hurts remains unflappable enough to shrug off mistakes.
The combination has been good enough every time so far.
Hurts rebounded from two early interceptions to pass for 286 yards and the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s defense did the rest in a 30-12 victory Saturday over No. 16 Auburn to finish an undefeated regular season.
“We have bigger goals in mind,” tight end O.J. Howard said.
The Tide (12-0, 8-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 1 CFP) led just 13-9 at halftime, dominating the stat sheet but only taking over the scoreboard in the second half. The defense pushed its string of quarters without allowing a touchdown to 14-plus and shut down the league’s top running game.
Auburn (8-4, 5-3, No. 15) failed to muster much offense for the second straight SEC game. This time the Tigers were playing without injured quarterback Sean White and unable to reach the end zone despite starting several drives in Alabama territory.
“We had some really, really challenging field position situations in this game, and our players responded really well to it,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Hurts displayed the same poise in overcoming two first-half interceptions that has helped him lead the Tide into the SEC championship game. He completed 27-of-36 mostly short and mid-range passes and threw for two touchdowns. Alabama has won three straight Iron Bowls for the first time since 1990-92.
“At halftime, I guess everybody thought I was going to throw a fit, but I told them, ‘Look guys, all we’ve got to do is go out there and play with some poise and confidence,'” Saban said.
Hurts also ran for 37 yards and a touchdown, leading two straight touchdown drives in the third quarter to all but put the game away after a mistake-filled first half.
He ran for a 4-yard score on a drive sparked by four Bo Scarbrough runs. On a fourth-and-4 play, he hit ArDarius Stewart, who spun away from a defender and made another move downfield en route to a 38-yard touchdown and a 27-9 lead.
Stewart gained 127 yards on 10 catches and completed a 12-yard pass. Scarbrough ran for 90 yards, including 83 after the half.
Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson, who started the second straight game in White’s place, completed 4 of 13 passes for 34 yards. John Franklin III connected on two downfield passes in the second half that totaled 85 yards. The Tide dominated in total yards, 501-182.
Daniel Carlson connected on four field goals for Auburn.
“Offensively, we just didn’t get first downs, we just didn’t get it done,” Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said. “Two of 12 on third downs, I really think that caused the problem. Third downs, didn’t hit explosive plays, defense was on the field too long was really the story of the day.READ MORE: Anne Heche's Son Mourns His Mother
“Obviously we’ve got players in there that are hurting, coaches that are hurting, this is a tough one.”
Auburn didn’t get a first down until nearly 25 minutes into the game and continues to have no passing game without a healthy White. Leading rusher Kamryn Pettway ran 12 times for just 17 yards after missing the past two games with a leg injury. The Tigers managed 66 rushing yards after coming in averaging a league best 298.
Alabama still has to get more offense in the downfield passing game but remains dominant on defense.
Alabama seems unlikely to drop from No. 1 in AP poll or playoff rankings, but No. 2 Ohio State could at least close ground after a double-overtime win over No. 3 Michigan. Auburn could fall from the top 20 after a second straight punchless offensive performance in SEC games.
Defensive back Tony Brown was ejected for targeting for a block thrown on a punt return. He’ll be available against Florida.
Alabama’s senior class finished its final home game with a 49-5 record so far.
Auburn awaits its bowl destination.
Alabama faces No. 13 Florida in the SEC championship game for the second straight year.
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