The Iron Bowl is almost always as much an off-field spectacle as it is an on-field sporting event, a collision of narratives and memes serving as the backdrop to a game that comes as close as football comes to war. By the time the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers play each other at the end of the year, the fans of each team knows the other side almost as well as they know their own. And during an era in which the winner of the Iron Bowl has played for the national title in each of the last six seasons, the rest of us are also paying close attention.
There was plenty of all that in Saturday's edition of the annual grudge match. Will Muschamp spent part of the game in a full-on rant, being restrained by fellow assistant coaches and giving the Tide 15 free yards on a critical drive. The two-year argument over whether the Alabama dynasty ended the last time the Tide won a bowl game of any sort or whether it is ongoing loomed over the game.
But it was the shattering of one of the most unlikely narratives -- Alabama's seeming inability to find a competent fied-goal kicker -- that helped the Tide build a lead and eventually win the game, 29-13. Kickers accounted for 15 of Alabama's points and, were it not for a late touchdown by Derrick Henry when the game was all but decided, they would have provided the winning margin after the Tide struggled to reach the end zone.
Aside from kicker Adam Griffith's 5-for-5 night, the rest of Alabama's win was powered by Derrick Henry. Henry carried the ball 46 times -- out of Alabama's 76 offensive snaps -- for 271 yards and a touchdown. LSU fans might point out that Leonard Fournette had a better per-carry average than Henry against Auburn's defense, but the way the Heisman Trophy process works, Henry has cemented his status as the front-runner for the award from the SEC, if not the nation.
Even as Auburn's defense helped keep those yards from turning into points, though, the Tigers' offense continued to sputter. Jeremy Johnson was 10-of-23 for 169 yards and a touchdown; the running game averaged just 2.5 yards a carry; Ricardo Louis, who ran the ball four times for 19 yards, was the only Tiger who averaged more than four yards an attempt.
Moral victories are never welcome among disappointed fan bases, but there was some hope buried for Auburn in keeping the game against Alabama close. Will Muschamp's defense is likely to get better in his second year on the plains, and Gus Malzahn is likelier than not to turn the offense around. The future might not look as promising as it did in 2013, but it's still promising.
For Alabama, the future -- and with it a chance to redeem the recent past -- is a more immediate concern. Beat Florida next week, and another national title is just two games away. Those games might not be won by field goals, but getting there is the first order of business.