AUBURN, Ala. — The best trick play Auburn ran during its 48-45 victory over Alabama on Saturday didn’t even result in a play.
Facing a fourth-and-4 from its own 26-yard line with a little over a minute to play, the Tigers trotted out punter Arryn Siposs as a wide receiver while remaining in an offensive formation. The strange setup caused Alabama to shift its defense back onto the field. However, in doing so the Crimson Tide didn’t remove returner Jaylen Waddle resulting in an illegal substitution penalty for having 12 men on the field. The penalty resulted in a first down, allowing Auburn to run out the instead of giving the ball back to Alabama for one final drive.
If all that sounds complicated, it’s because it was.
Following the game, Alabama head coach Nick Saban voiced his displeasure on the chaotic finish, stating that he felt his team should have been allowed additional time to substitute given the unusual sequence of events.
“I really feel that it was pretty unfair play at the end of the game,” Saban said. “They substituted the punter as a wide receiver, so we put the punt team in. And then when the quarterback was still in there, we tried to put the defense back in. I thought they should have given us a little more time to substitute and get Waddle out as a return. Then we get called for 12 guys on the field.
“That was disappointing. We’re responsible for that as coaches, but it was a very unusual circumstance to say the least, and I think sometime when you have those that they should be viewed that way.”
While the result of the play ended up icing the game for Auburn, Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn said that his reasoning for calling the formation wasn’t to draw a penalty but rather to keep the ball away from Waddle.
“We were going to go ahead and shift and have him punt,” Malzahn said of Sipsoss. “We were just trying to find ways to keep (Waddle) 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.”
Malzahn’s concern over Waddle was well warranted. The electric playmaker entered the game leading the nation with 24.95 yards per punt return. Earlier in the day Saturday, he brought back a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. That was part of a heroic night that also saw him pull in four receptions for 98 yards and three more scores through the air.
Once Alabama realized Waddle was still on the field, it tried to get his attention. However, by the time the speedy receiver took notice he was unable to dash to the sidelines fast enough.
“I’m hurt, man,” Waddle said holding back tears after the game. “I tried to get off the field as fast as I could.”
Added Alabama quarterback Mac Jones: “We were just ready to get the ball back, but it’s football and things happen. You know, it’s a hard place to play. It’s loud, and sometimes communications get a little messed up. But if we got the ball back, I really would have had confidence in our guys to go down and score and kick a field goal.
“It seemed like I was far back, but I tried to get Waddle off the field. I knew there was 12. It’s like they’re subbing too, so they should give us time. But I don’t know all the rules about that on special teams. But it is what it is.”