The Iron Bowl
Alabama and Auburn meet for the 75th time on Friday in the annual “Iron Bowl”.
Before I dive into the actual game itself, I’ll give you a few quick facts about the Iron Bowl.
The series was moved from a neutral site in 1989 where Alabama traveled to Auburn for the first time in the series’ history. Alabama was undefeated and ranked second in the country, but Auburn would win the first Iron Bowl played at Jordan-Hare Stadium 30-20.
Alabama continued to play its “home” games at Legion Field until the year 2000 when it officially moved their home games to Tuscaloosa. The two teams had met before in Tuscaloosa in 1895 and 1901. Auburn won both games by a combined score of 65-0.
Auburn has dominated the series outside of neutral sites, winning 13 of 17 games (7-3 at Jordan-Hare, 6-1 at Bryant-Denny). However, Nick Saban is 1-0 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in the Iron Bowl. Alabama dominated the series at Legion Field with a 32-15 record. Overall, Alabama leads the series at 40-33-1 and the lone tie occurred in 1907.
Alabama has won two straight against Auburn, after Auburn owned the rivalry for the better part of the decade by winning a string a six straight starting in 2002.
The rivalry, in my opinion, is more of a fan induced rivalry. The tradition of the rivalry is rich and the players and coaches understand the rivalry, but the fans of the respective teams are the true rivals. I think that is something that has evolved over time and it’s just my opinion, but you can’t tell me that a player from out-of-state fully understands what this rivalry means. It is a culture known only to the state of Alabama.
Hopefully that provides an effective, albeit short, look into the background of the Iron Bowl. You can find all the historic matchups online, so I won’t use this space to talk about that.
Line: Alabama -4.5
Alabama Crimson Tide (9-2) vs. Auburn Tigers (11-0)
Kickoff: 2:30 PM CST, CBS
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, AL
Auburn should be able to win the battle up front and that usually signals success, but they will be lacking in-depth on the defensive line in the first half due to two DL serving first half suspensions for their actions in the Georgia game. In contrast, Auburn will get two fresh legs at the beginning of the second half. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. It’s a double-edged sword that the Tigers coaching staff will have to work around.
Auburn’s Offense vs. Alabama Defense
The only team that has stopped Auburn this season is Mississippi State. Cam Newton was held to 70 yards rushing on 18 carries and he failed to score a touchdown on the ground. Clemson also found a way to stop Cam Newton on the ground. Newton gained just 68 yards on 17 carries and didn’t score a rushing touchdown in that game. Granted, these games were early on, but they do provide a blueprint. You need speed on the defensive side of the ball and you must contain.
Alabama will also have to worry about containing the speed of Onterrio McCaleb on the outside. He’s a guy that can gain yards quickly if he gets some space in front of him.
The Tigers offense has since hit its stride under offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. The highlight offensive game was surely the 400 yard rushing performance against LSU and that’s really the only viable defense they have played thus far with the exception of a decent Mississippi State unit. Auburn’s offense won’t be stopped completely. It’s too good. Cam Newton is too good to completely shut down. You can be sure that Malzahn will have some plays reserved for this game.
Alabama’s defense has had its ups and downs. They struggle with mental breakdowns in the secondary and allow big plays to happen, but this has mostly been on the road. As most teams normally do, the Tide’s defense plays better at home. Alabama allows 356.4 yards per game and 20.4 points per game on the road compared to 241 yards per game and 6.5 points per game at home. However, the quality of offenses that have visited Tuscaloosa haven’t been all that great and none of them come close to the quality of Auburn’s offense. Only one offense is ranked inside the top 50 (Ole Miss at #42). I certainly do not expect Alabama to hold Auburn under 10 points. That would be nothing short of a miracle.
If the game against Mississippi State is any indication of how Alabama’s defense might stop the read option, then they are on the right path. Let’s not forget how much success Alabama has had at stopping read option offenses under Saban. I really think his defenses thrive against those types of offenses. It’s debatable on whether or not the Auburn offense is better than the Tim Tebow led offense of the Florida Gators. Perhaps that offense was better considering they had a staunch defense behind it.
Alabama’s defense doesn’t need to stop Auburn on every single possession. If they can get five or six stops, they will be in a great position to win this game but they are going to have to give one of their best efforts of the year. I genuinely think this is the best defense Auburn has faced to date. They are a talented bunch with inexperience and they have two of the best defensive minds on one staff in Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. This will also be one of the more challenging tasks for those two as well.
Alabama’s Offense vs. Auburn’s Defense
As you may or may not know, Auburn’s defense is not the kind you would expect from the #2 team in the country. Still, they have won games simply because teams could not stop them on offense. The Tiger defense has also turned things up a notch in the 4th quarter of games. This defensive unit is 50th in total defense (#100 against the pass, #11 against the run). They have improved significantly at stopping the run compared to last season. This defense shut down Mark Ingram last season and if Alabama tries to run it straight at the defensive line, then it will produce similar results. The Alabama offensive line will have their hands full with standout DT Nick Fairley. Alabama will likely double team Fairley most of the game, but that will have its consequences.
Alabama must stretch the field early. I expect them to look for favorable matchups in the secondary with Julio Jones. Last year in the Iron Bowl, Jones caught 9 passes for 83 yards. I expect him to surpass both of those totals. Auburn doesn’t really have anyone that can matchup with Jones. Marquis Maze is also a guy to watch out for. He has big play capability. I expect the return of a healthy Trent Richardson to make an impact as well.
I look for the Alabama offense to utilize the screen to get Auburn defenders up close to the line and then start to take shots vertically. They will try to get Ingram and Richardson in space through the passing game and I imagine we will see more of the speed sweep out of the wildcat formation — with the possibility of a pass at some point as well. Alabama will attack the weakness of this defense early and often and I wouldn’t be surprised if they decide to run the hurry up early in the game to fatigue an undermanned defensive line.
Julio Jones is the x-factor on offense. If he can get going early, then the Auburn defense will have a difficult time keeping Alabama from scoring 30.
The weather was forecasted to be rather messy initially, but the rain will move through the area Thursday night and will cool things off considerably for the game Friday afternoon. This is always a game where the records mean nothing. These are two evenly matched teams set to square off in one of the most anticipated Iron Bowl’s in some time.
Intangibles are going to play a part in this game as well. Auburn will be visiting the most hostile environment they have been in all season. Alabama will feed off of it early and Auburn will have to make sure they do not let things get out of control. They can’t afford to start the way the did against Georgia. That’s the sort of thing that will get you beat on the road.
Alabama possesses a defense that is just as good, if not better, than LSU’s and they have a top 20 scoring offense to go along with that. Alabama averages 35.3 points per game while LSU’s offense is ranked 90th in total offense and averages 29 points per game. Alabama’s offense will take an unconventional approach to their offense and move the ball through the air, rather than than ground.
Auburn will score and they are a team that can run away with a game quickly if you lose focus. Each team is capable of winning this game. There’s no doubt about that.
The pressure is on Auburn now. Alabama has nothing to lose and Auburn has everything to lose. I look for Alabama’s offense to control the clock and keep Cam Newton on the sidelines.
Nick Saban and his staff will outcoach Auburn’s en route to spoiling their undefeated season.
My final prediction: Alabama 31, Auburn 26
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below. You can e-mail me suggestions or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @JoeSportswriter.