Incredibly, the 2013 regular season is almost over, and the Iron Bowl is upon us. We know that Alabama is good, but to get a better idea of what the Crimson Tide are bringing to the table, we chatted with SB Nation's Alabama blog, Roll Bama Roll.
College and Magnolia: Everyone knew there was a good chance Alabama would be undefeated going into this game, but Auburn as a top-five team is a stunner. I know the Bammer inside you will answer the following question "0-12," but how did you rationally expect Year 1 to go for Gus on the Plains?
Roll Bama Roll: I think I was probably thinking 8-4, with a one-win swing in either direction as a real possibility. I think the biggest surprise for me is how hard he has managed to get the team to play only a year removed from the team seemingly packing it in during several games. Winning over the minds of these players is probably his biggest accomplishment, and one that can't be overstated.
CaM: How do you think Alabama will attack Auburn's defense? Will the Tide use the dink-and-dunk plan successfully employed by Georgia in the fourth quarter, or will they try to take more shots downfield? And how much success will 'Bama's offense have?
RBR: It's interesting that you mentioned the Georgia game plan. That late-game strategy of slants on slants on slants was brutally efficient, and I think that a similar strategy would really work to Alabama's advantage. The short passing game would certainly help to negate Auburn's pass rush, and Alabama has a couple of receivers (Amari Cooper and Christion Jones) that could make some noise if given the ball in space.
As far as how much success Bama will have, the only unit that really concerns me is Auburn's defensive line, which I think is fairly stout. Outside of that unit, I expect Bama to do most anything they want. Auburn's rush defense has been pretty pedestrian, allowing 4.26 yards per carry (68th in the country), and the pass defense is in the same boat, allowing 7.1 yards per attempt (66th in the country). Considering this Bama team will bring the best offense that Auburn has faced this year, I look for a decent amount of success.
If you look at advanced statistics (specifically S+P), Auburn's defense is basically a notch right below Ole Miss. Bama only managed 25 points against them, but I expect to see a few more points in this game.
CaM: What about on defense? What will Nick Saban's and Kirby Smart's plan be? Will they be able to shut down Auburn's offense?
RBR: Obviously, you have to start by stopping the run. Auburn has one of the best rushing attacks in all of college football, and if you can't slow that down, then you won't have much of a chance. On the option plays, I suspect Bama will try to accomplish this by taking away the outside options every time, to try to force the play inside and rely on a big, run-stuffing defensive line to do their job and make a play consistently.
Will they be able to shut down Auburn's offense? Well, not entirely, no. I do think Bama will be able to limit them pretty well, to the tune of 3 yards per carry and 20 points or so. 20 points may not seem like much, but it would be the most allowed this year to any team not named "Texas A&M".
CaM: Do you put any stock into the "Saban has trouble with tempo/spread teams" argument?
RBR: I suppose it depends on how you frame the question. I do think that the hurry up naturally goes against Saban's default, substitution-heavy game plan. I think it is only a persistent problem for him, though, to the extent that he tries to be hard-headed and keep the substitutions going despite the tempo (see: Texas A&M 2012). It also has a lot to do with personnel. Obviously, Manziel had a ton of success, but much of that was attributable to Mike Evans, who is an absolute monster. I don't think that was a scheme or tempo issue, just a freak tight end/wide receiver hybrid abusing cornerbacks.
CaM: I would think 2010 is your worst Iron Bowl memory. What's your second-worst?
RBR: Still 2010.
CaM: And what's your favorite Alabama win over Auburn?
RBR: I might would have to say the shutout of 2008. It was such a thorough beating and it came on the heels of so many years of disappointment, which made it especially satisfying.
CaM: How confident are you in a Tide victory, and how do you think the game plays out? Care to offer a final-score prediction?
RBR: I'm feeling fairly confident in a win right now. I'm not sure at all how the game will play out. I feel like Auburn could really pull out all the stops and put up 14 or 17 in the first half, only to be relatively shut down in the second half. I really look for AJ McCarron to have a pretty solid passing game, with three touchdowns and a couple hundred yards passing. I'll go with a final score of 38-20, Bama.