AUBURN — Jaylen Waddle leaned against the brick that housed the visiting locker room beneath Jordan-Hare Stadium’s North end zone and stared at the ground.
It was about the only time Alabama’s dynamic sophomore receiver and return man wasn’t running wild Saturday.
Not that Waddle was the least bit interested in reminiscing about his career day.
“It hurts regardless (of how I did individually) … it’s a big game, means a lot,” Waddle said.
Waddle tallied a career-best 230 all-purpose yards and four total touchdowns, including a career-long 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter, but that went for naught as No. 5 Alabama dropped a 48-45 heartbreaker to No. 15 Auburn in 84th Iron Bowl on Saturday night.
The loss squandered any hope the Crimson Tide had of making a sixth straight College Football Playoff, and sent Waddle and the rest of his teammates looking inward.
“We made some mistakes (today), and that hurt us,” Waddle said. “I know there were things I could’ve done better on my end, but I can’t fix them now.”
Whatever mistakes Waddle may have made couldn’t overshadow the incredible day he had in Saturday’s game, routinely sparking Alabama’s offense in need of firepower with its Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback on crutches less than two weeks removed from major hip surgery.
Waddle sparked a wild sequence in a back-and-forth second quarter when he answered a pick-six interception return by Auburn’s Smoke Monday with a momentum-swinging 98-yard kickoff return for a score 14 seconds later to tie it again at 17-all.
“It was just a good play call by (Alabama special teams coordinator Jeff) Banks and a great job by the return team setting it up, and I just hit it and tried not to get caught,” Waddle said of the return. “We needed it.”
As the final score indicates, that wouldn’t be the end of the fireworks Saturday — or in that second quarter.
There were 38 points on five touchdowns and a field goal scored over the final 5:36 of the second quarter, including two lead changes in one minute and 24 seconds.
The crazy sequence of events started with sophomore quarterback Mac Jones’ worst pass of the game when he overthrew Jerry Jeudy and Monday slid underneath it and returned it 29 yards to go ahead 17-10 with 5:36 remaining before halftime.
Waddle fielded the ensuing kickoff from the 2-yard line and was off like a rocket, sidestepping one Auburn tackler and then simply outrunning the rest to the left sideline — including a last-ditch dive by receiver Matthew Hill — for a game-tying 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown 14 seconds later.
“He’s a dynamic returner,” Saban said of Waddle. “He’s got great speed, reads the blocks well, understands how to hit these things so that you can make big plays, and that was obviously a big play in the game.”
Both teams traded touchdown drives later in the second before Waddle caught a short screen pass from Jones and raced between five Auburn defenders for a 58-yard touchdown — the first of his three receiving scores on the day — to take a 31-24 lead with 33 seconds left in the first half.
Waddle also added two more go-ahead touchdowns of 12- and 28-yards that gave the Tide leads of 38-37 and 45-40, respectively, the last coming with 13:44 remaining in the game.
But when it needed a defensive stop — or a game-tying field goal — it couldn’t get either in the fourth quarter before a late substitution penalty appeared to sour Waddle’s career-best performance.
With Auburn in fourth-and-4 from its own 26-yard-line and 1:06 remaining in the game, Alabama appeared poised to get the ball back with one final shot. And when Tigers punter Arryn Siposs came onto the field, the Tide coaches sent out the punt return team, including Waddle as the return man.
But a late shift moved Siposs to out wide to receiver with Auburn quarterback Bo Nix back under center, forcing Alabama to scramble and try to substitute its entire defense back onto the field.
The only problem was Waddle didn’t react quickly enough and was caught on the field when Nix snapped it, resulting in a substitution penalty as the Tide had 12 players on the field. That allowed Auburn to close out the game in the victory formation.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban called the situation “unfair” and “very disappointing. … It was a very unusual circumstance to say the least.”
“Waddle was back deep, he was little late getting off, we were trying to get his attention to get him off, and he didn’t get off fast enough,” Saban said. “So he was the 12th guy that they penalized us for. But they did sub, so they should give us time to sub in those situations. Whether they did or didn’t, that’s not my call.”