This is an important Iron Bowl for Auburn. A win keeps the Tigers’ hopes alive for an SEC title and potential playoff bid. Perhaps more importantly, a loss would make this the first senior class to graduate without a win against Alabama in 36 years.
The oddsmakers give Alabama a 4.5 point edge on Auburn and have set the over/under at 47.5, indicating a fairly tight, moderately-low-scoring game. This makes sense given Auburn and Alabama’s highly rated defenses. But this game may turn into a 2014-style shootout. Why?
I. Auburn can score on Alabama
Despite several well-publicized injuries, Alabama has the top scoring defense in the country, giving up just over 10 points per game. Auburn should score 30-40 on them.
You can generally tell within a quarter if a team will be able to hang with Saban’s Alabama squads. If you can run the ball right at the heart of the Alabama defense, the rest of the offense will click.
Let’s not get crazy. Success running the ball against Alabama doesn’t look like it does against mortal defenses. If you can average 3-5 yards per carry between the tackles, you’re going to be ok.
Saban’s best teams have had an impregnable line. Their front three neutralizes your line’s push. If they do that, nothing else is going to work for you.
If your five offensive linemen can’t move their three down linemen, you can’t put a hat on their linebackers. This frees the linebackers to pursue the ball aggressively sideline-to-sideline. Alabama compresses the field by bringing pressure from the wide side of the field on running downs to steer your running backs inside to the pursuing linebackers. In short, because you can’t run up the middle, you can’t run wide.
Because you can’t run, you also can’t throw. Your offense finds itself in a lot of obvious passing downs with four receivers running routes against talented defensive backs that have numbers and help from the linebackers.
2014 is a good example of how you wear down a good Alabama defense by establishing the run first. In the first quarter, Cameron Artis-Payne wore the Alabama defense down. Auburn had 23 carries for 123 yards on its first three drives, scoring three field goals.
Alabama adjusted and committed more resources to the box. That’s when everything went nuts. Nick Marshall threw for 456 yards and Auburn put up 44 points in one of the wildest Iron Bowl ever.
This year’s Auburn team is set up to follow this pattern. Kerryon Johnson should have some success running right at Alabama. This probably wasn’t true in September when Alabama was healthy and Auburn was finding itself but it is probably true now. Once that happens, the sweeps and passing game will open up. Auburn has enough talent and balance to hurt Alabama several ways an should be able to put up a lot of points on a defense that normally doesn’t give much up.
II. Alabama Can Score on Auburn
Just like Auburn can score on Alabama, Alabama’s offense will be able to hurt Auburn. Alabama is extremely talented and balanced. Alabama has the 7th best scoring offense in the country, putting up over 41 per game.
Auburn has to prioritize either stopping the run or the pass. Auburn should probably commit resources to stopping the run game and trust the secondary. Unlike Georgia, Alabama can make you pay if you sell out to stop the run. I expect that Saturday, we’ll see Alabama will throw to set up the run later in the game.
Calvin Ridley is by far the best receiver Auburn has faced this year. He runs amazing routes and comes out of his breaks at full speed. Auburn’s secondary is great and physical, but we don’t have someone that can stay with Ridley once he gets into his route.
Auburn’s best chance is going to be to jam him at the line and hope our defensive front can reach Hurts before the play develops. As Bill C, pointed out, Hurts’ progression is sometimes (1) look for Hurts; (2) run.
Hurts is a great runner. Auburn’s line won’t be able to pin their ears back and rush up the field. They have to be controlled and keep Hurts in front of them at all times while they slowly collapse the pocket around him. This controlled rush is necessary to keep from creating rushing lanes. One of Auburn’s linebackers will likely be tasked with shadowing or “spying” on Hurts once he tries to break containment. Using a linebacker as a spy means that he can’t help double a receiver or take away a passing lane.
Minimizing Ridley’s impact and forcing Hurts to scramble late around the edge rusher on designed pass plays is our ideal scenario. Even then, Hurts will get yards. He’ll pick up first downs he doesn’t deserve, but be patient. Eventually Auburn will get some stops; maybe enough to keep us in the game.
If Alabama has success in the passing game, it forces defenses to commit more resources to stop them. When that happens, they turn to the running game to put it away. Alabama’s running backs are probably the best in the conference. It’s demoralizing to watch Alabama’s backs gash you for big yards late in the game.
Auburn’s defense has been amazing this season but each of our units has to be at their best to give Auburn a chance to win.
Literally no outcome of this game would be surprising. I believe that Auburn will find a way to win. But win or lose, I’m taking the over.
How many points will Auburn and Alabama combine to score Saturday?
This poll is closed
Less than 30
More than 66