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Opponent Q&A: Alabama Crimson Tide

Roll Bama Roll stops by to talk about the Iron Bowl.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Alabama
Guess that mask didn’t work...
The Montgomery Advertiser-USA TODAY Sports

Whether you’re ready for it or not, the Iron Bowl is tomorrow, and we have to find out the scuttlebutt from our acquaintances across the state. Roll Bama Roll stopped by to chat about Nick Saban having COVID, and how badly they’re going to beat us this weekend.

This is great timing, sending you this after the news from earlier today. What impact, if any, do you think not having Nick Saban on the sideline will have on the game?

So my glass-half-full approach to this thinks about some of the many questionable decisions Nick Saban has made in the Iron Bowls over the years... And having a California dude (Steve Sarkisian) with no real ties to the rivalry will treat it more like any other game and not have Auburn in his head.

Saban’s typically known more for his recruiting, developing, and program building moreso than he’s involved in game day operations. The coordinators typically handle everything but the critical moment decision making anyway.

So, in theory, it shouldn’t make much of a difference. But we’ve also never seen Saban miss a game in 13 years, so who knows.

I know that you guys expect a national title every year, but how has this team met with your expectations? And will Kirby Smart ever beat Alabama?

For me, personally, the team has overall played better than I was expecting. The offense not only didn’t take a step backwards with Tua Tagovailoa, Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and Jedrick Wills all getting drafted in the first round... They might even be better than the 2019 squad.The defense looked to have regressed a bit at first, but has looked good the last 4 games (though Stetson Bennett, Jarrett Guarantano, KJ Costello, and Terry Wilson aren’t exactly a murderer’s row of QBs).

Considering Alabama and Georgia aren’t scheduled to play again for likely 4 more years, I don’t think we’ll ever see Kirby beat Saban. I honestly don’t have a lot of faith Georgia is is going to keep reaching the SEC championship, and I’m not sure Smart’s even going to last in Athens four more years. I just feel like that program is going to keep sliding backwards.

Mac Jones is among the contenders for the Heisman Trophy this season. Has his level of play exceeded what Alabama fans thought he could do?

He’s well exceeded everyone’s expectations, and if someone says otherwise, they’re lying to you. We all knew he had a nice touch on sideline throws, but he was a limited runner, limited arm strength, and a bit of a track record of questionable decision-making.

But with one off-season as a starter under his belt, Mac’s shown phenomenal development in being able to switch back and forth between bombing it deep or patiently taking checkdowns depending on what the defense is trying to do.

He’s still good for taking 1 sack/game where he thinks he’s gonna outrun a defender and it obviously doesn’t happen, and he’s good for 1-2 throws per game that scare the bejeesus out of me. But then his other 30 throws will all be absolutely spot on.

In years past, Alabama’s had very good success against Auburn in the passing game, whether that’s Julio, Cooper, or a smattering of the foursome you guys had on the field in 2018-2019. Devonta Smith is all that’s left in that group, so tell us about John Metchie and the other receivers that Auburn needs to guard closely on Saturday.

Metchie is a second year guy out of Canada who’s got really good speed and is a strong, muscled up dude who’s been used primarily as a deep threat so far this year. He’s not really gotten the targets yet this year outside of the couple of deep shots per game, but he’s got all the makings to be the #1 guy next season. Past that, Slade Bolden has been playing in relief of Jaylen Waddle. Bolden’s a slot guy who’s got the elusive ability to make guys miss, but not the speed to really turn a missed tackle into a huge touchdown. But he twisted his ankle last week, so it’s uncertain we’ll even see him.

There’s a glut of freshman after that, but none have seen any collegiate targets yet. The rest of the passing game goes to non-receivers. Tight end Miller Forristall converts a couple of 3rd downs each game, and Jahleel Billingsley had a breakout performance last week, hurdling a dude on a 40-yard catch down field. Plus Najee Harris gets quite a few targets.

Nick Saban himself said that you don’t win games with great defense anymore. I know that had to hurt an old defensive guru like him, but characterize the Alabama defense for us this year. We watched them get shredded against Ole Miss, and then play pretty solidly against Tennessee and Mississippi State. What are their weaknesses and how are they able to be successful?

The Alabama cornerbacks - Pat Surtain and Josh Jobe - are in the competition for the best tandem in the Nick Saban era. And freshman Malachi Moore has been a revelation and a spark of energy at the nickel corner. Then safety Jordan Battle is a solid sophomore with definite All-SEC potential. But any secondary can be brought down with a weak link, and the other safety spot has been an issue... and therefore is getting targeted more and more.

The linebacker group is supremely athletic, but they’ve had some major issues with dealing with off tackle runs off of fakes, and the first time they actually cover a running back out of the backfield in the passing game will be the first.

While the outside linebackers have kept fairly consistent pressure on QBs, the interior linemen have just been generally underwhelming in both pass and run defense.

Same question you posed us — who have we not heard of who’ll have an impact in this game on each side of the ball?

On offense, I already mentioned tight end Jahleel Billingsley. The sophomore isn’t much of a blocker, but he’s got some really nice speed and made a few chunk gains last week in his first chance at a full-time role.

Defensively, watch for linebacker Chris Allen. The junior’s had a couple of seasons ruined by injury and has almost no fanfare, but he’s good for about 2 immediate pressures off the edge each game.

If you’re the Alabama coaching staff, what’s the main thing you’re looking to take advantage of and what keeps you up at night when you’re watching film?

I’m licking my chops thinking about that Auburn offensive line pass blocking on 3rd down, Bo Nix tossing some prayers under pressure, and the Alabama secondary getting a pick or two.

And I’m absolutely terrified the Tide linebacking crew will never GET to third down because defending inverted veers and jet sweeps are alien concepts.

How will this game play out? Score prediction?

I hate predicting Iron Bowls. This one’s an even numbered year, though, so I think it won’t be TOO weird. I think we have a super low scoring first half, and Alabama pulls away in the second half, as Auburn gets more and more desperate and Bo Nix has to pass downfield more.

Final score 38-13 Bama.

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We’ll see who’s correct when we play tomorrow! 2:30 pm CST kickoff in Tuscaloosa for this one. War Eagle!