TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though University of Alabama seniors Anthony Averett and Rashaan Evans experienced the Kick Six in vastly different ways, they both had the same reaction.
Averett was already on the Crimson Tide roster, but poised to redshirt, so he didn’t travel with the team to Auburn. Instead, he got permission to head home to New Jersey for both Thanksgiving and his birthday.
“It was a bad experience,” he said. “I was thinking, man, really? Nov. 30, yeah, that’s crazy.”
Meanwhile, Evans was at Jordan-Hare Stadium being wooed by the host school as a prize recruit. Not only was he considered one of the best prospects in the nation, but had played just down the street at Auburn High School.
“Oh yeah, it was crazy,” said Evans, who will ironically play his final regular-season collegiate game back in his hometown.
What are the chances that Saturday’s game (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) could be decided by another special-teams play? If the No. 1 vs. No. 6 showdown is as close as most people believe, it very well could.
Just don’t expect another Kick Six.
“That’s not really a situation you think about,” said Alabama senior kicker Andy Pappanastos, the transfer from Ole Miss who was with the Rebels in 2013.
“Obviously, you go in with confidence and just try to make it and put points on the board. I don’t think anybody would have predicted that would happen.”
Regardless, decisive special-team plays tend to happen in this rivalry. From Van Tiffin’s 52-yard field goal to give Alabama a 25-23 victory as time expired in 1985, to “Punt, Bama, Punt,” when Auburn’s Bill Newton blocked two Greg Gantt punts and David Langner returned them both for touchdowns in 1972, the Iron Bowl as seen just about everything.
So have a lot of the players on both rosters. For example, Auburn blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown just before halftime at Texas A&M. Numerous Alabama players remember the successful onside kick against Clemson in the National Championship Game two years ago.
“We practice that a lot, too. It’s not a fluke,” said Averett, who along with senior center Bradley Bozeman are the only remaining players from the 2013 Crimson Tide roster. “We use it if we have to, special occasions.”
Both teams have their strengths and weaknesses.
Auburn is last in the SEC in punting and 13th in kickoff coverage, which could significantly help the Crimson Tide in terms of field position. However, Alabama hasn’t been good on punt returns or kickoff returns.
“We haven’t gotten the kind of production out of those two teams that we’d like,” Nick Saban said. “We continue to work on it and focus because that can be a real weapon for you if you win in special teams.”
Alabama is second in kickoff coverage and boasts senior punter JK Scott, who is up for the Ray Guy Award again. Auburn has senior kicker Daniel Carlson, a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.
Carlson already holds 13 Auburn kicking records and is tied for second all-time in the nation for most field goals made with 88 (Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez made 96 from 2013-16). He’s made 13 career field goals of 50-plus yards. Overall this season, he’s 19 of 25 (76.0 percent).
Pappanastos is 15-for-19 after having a 41-yard attempt clang off the upright at Mississippi State, which would have given Alabama the lead with 2:03 remaining.
“I think I just pulled it a little bit,” he said. “I hit it great. That’s why I feel really confident about it.”
He’s been perfect on anything within 40 yards, including all 49 extra-point attempts, but is just 4-for-8 between 40-49 yards. Of course, for anything around 50 yards or longer, Alabama usually opts for Scott, who has a stronger leg. He made a 48-yard field goal against Ole Miss, but missed from 50 and 52 yards.
Remember, the Kick Six was off a 57-yard field-goal attempt
It was also an attempt to win the game, which is something Pappanastos had never had during his kicking career.
“In high school, I had a couple similar to [the Mississippi State] situation, I hit a field goal and there would be a minute to two left and we win by three,” he said. “But not at the last second or anything.
“My dad actually told me to just put it in your mind that it’s going to come someday so whenever you get out in that situation it’s not going to be any different.”
Just imagine if that opportunity came in the Iron Bowl.
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