TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Amari Cooper tied his own school record with 224 yards receiving and caught three touchdown passes in No. 2 Alabama’s 55-44 comeback victory over No. 15 Auburn on Saturday night in the highest-scoring Iron Bowl.
Quarterback Blake Sims and the Crimson Tide (11-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) turned to the Heisman Trophy contender for touchdown strikes of 39 and 75 yards in the third quarter.
Alabama had already clinched a spot in the SEC championship game against No. 17 Missouri, and the top team in the College Football Playoff rankings scored 28 consecutive points heading into the final seconds.
Auburn (8-4, 4-4) surged ahead 36-27 before losing its third straight SEC game in a season that once also carried playoff hopes.
Sims passed for 312 yards and four touchdowns but was threw three interceptions. Auburn’s Nick Marshall had 456 yards passing, 206 to Sammie Coates.
Alabama’s trip to Atlanta was sealed about 30 minutes before kickoff when Mississippi knocked off No. 4 Mississippi State, 31-17.
The playoff positioning came into question after a slow start, but the Tide offense succeeded where the defense failed.
The rivalry that produced last season’s most memorable play — Auburn’s 109-yard return of a missed field goal on the final play — this time turned into a shootout. It showcased Sims-to-Cooper and Marshall-to-Coates with plenty of runs as well.
Auburn gained 630 yards against the SEC’s top defense. Lane Kiffin’s Alabama offense racked up 539 yards.
The previous high score in the Iron Bowl came in 1969, a 49-26 Auburn victory. This one trounced that total.
Cooper, who had 13 catches, gained 141 yards in the third quarter alone. Coates scored on touchdowns of 34 and 68 yards on five catches for Auburn. Teammate D’haquille Williams, who had missed the past two games with a knee injury, gained 121 yards on seven catches.
Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon ran for 127 yards and a pair of scores. The SEC’s top rushing defense made it hard going for the No. 1 rusher, holding Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne to 77 yards on 25 runs.
Sims overcame his uncharacteristic mistakes to start the comeback with thes 75-yarder to a streaking Cooper when Auburn pushed its lead to nine. The Tide quarterback then pulled a Marshall-like play, scampering for an 11-yard touchdown run and converting the 2-point play to take the lead for good.
Sims took Alabama right back downfield after a defensive stop. He hit DeAndrew White for a 6-yard score, but was stopped short on the 2-point try.
Marshall and Coates answered with a 53-yard connection to put Auburn in position to score again. Nick Perry brought Marcus Davis down a yard shy on fourth-and-8 deep in Tide territory to effectively end the threat.
Daniel Carlson kicked five field goals for Auburn while the Tigers scored 10 points in the final 54 seconds of the first half for a 26-21 lead.
It prompted Tide coach Nick Saban to proclaim: “That’s about as bad a half of football as we’ve played all year.”