A little blood ran down Nick Saban's left cheek as he paced the Iron Bowl sideline Saturday, the result of a brush with a player's shoulder pad during the second quarter of Alabama's 49-27 win over archrival Auburn. Heck, it wasn't even his first harrowing sideline encounter this year, having been accidentally wiped out by cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry at LSU a few weeks prior.
It wasn't nearly the Crimson Tide's only scar, either.
As some of Alabama's very best teams under Saban came down the November stretch, with a lengthy string of blowout victories in their wake, pundits were fond of pointing out that it wasn't necessarily a good thing that they'd not been tested. That they'd not been through the adversity of a back-and-forth, four-quarter slugfest.
This team had.
ALABAMA REPORT CARD:Alabama football grades vs. Auburn: Unpacking Crimson Tide's Iron Bowl rout
This team took the gut punches of a walk-off, three-point loss at Tennessee and a walk-off, overtime loss by one to LSU, both knockout blows. It took uppercuts from Texas and powerful hooks from Texas A&M, gathering its wits and punching back just well enough to win those fights on points.
It took Ole Miss' best punch, too, and staved off a Rebels offense that fired a would-be game-winning pass into its end zone with under a minute to play. It simply wasn't good enough to win them all, or play its way into the SEC Championship Game. It wasn't charmed or wired quite like some of its predecessors that got to sit back and watch backups play the final minutes of easier wins.
But if there was any value at all to be gained from all those white-knuckle finishes, the Iron Bowl was the time to extract it. And this time, the Crimson Tide wasn't going to stand for all the last-minute drama.
The 87th meeting between these rival schools figured to be a lot closer than their respective records would have indicated. The Crimson Tide (10-2, 6-2 SEC), after all, had shown a propensity for close calls in letting the aforementioned five games all come down to the final possession. Then there was Auburn (5-7, 2-6), outmanned as it was, feeding off the boundless emotion of interim coach Carnell Williams. He loped up and down Bryant-Denny Stadium's East sideline with all the energy of a spinning top − half coach, half super fan − and rallied the Tigers to muster every imaginable effort.
It never really took.
Alabama took the first punch, a 24-yard TD run by Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford, and answered with a flurry of scores for a 21-7 lead. When the Tigers answered with their second touchdown, Alabama responded with three more. The Crimson Tide dominated the first half for a 35-14 edge at the break, then let Auburn know there would be no comeback by opening the third quarter with an emphatic nine-play drive of 72 yards to extend its insurmountable lead to 42-14.
On a day when College Football Playoff contenders such as Ohio State and Clemson stumbled, Alabama − with its stumbles firmly embedded weeks ago − looked like a team that had well-learned how to get up and dust itself off.
Bloodied, but on this night, not beaten.
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Nick Saban and Alabama football cash in blood, scars for Iron Bowl win