Alabama and Auburn will meet for the 87th time in Iron Bowl history when the state’s rivals go head-to-head on Saturday. In a rare event under Nick Saban, the Iron Bowl will not affect Alabama’s future as a participant in the SEC Championship Game or the College Football Playoffs. With neither at stake, this year’s Iron Bowl will be more about rivalry, pride and boasting. With the added energy provided by caretaker manager Cadillac Williams, Auburn is playing its best football of the season and while the Crimson Tide are heavy favourites, this game has the potential to become a classic.
Here are some key things to watch out for against Auburn:
Alabama’s linebackers will be extremely important in this matchup against Auburn. Will Anderson Jr. and co. still need to generate a pass rush, but not as much as usual. Instead, they need to focus on stopping the run, more importantly stopping the quarterback run. Robby Ashford, Auburn’s quarterback, isn’t much of a threat in the passing game, having completed less than 50% of his passes and throwing more interceptions, seven, than throwing touchdowns, six. However, Ashford is very dangerous in the ground game with the designed runs and even more so when he falls back on the pass and decides to climb. If the linebackers can limit Ashford’s big plays and Auburn’s running attack, they should put themselves in good position to win the game.
Last year, the Auburn pass rush dominated Alabama’s offensive line with seven sacks and eight quarterback hurries, leading to Bryce Young running for his life almost every time he fell back to the pass. While some of the faces of Auburn’s pass rush from last year may be missing, Auburn still brings a pass rush that ranks fourth in the SEC with 26 in sacks. A major concern for Alabama’s offensive line is left tackle position, as Tyler Steen left the game against Austin Peay before halftime and didn’t return. If Steen is unable to leave, Alabama would turn to Amari Knight for a place on the starting lineup. Knight did well against Austin Peay, but Auburn is a whole different beast.
game in progress
With Jahmyr Gibbs not in Alabama’s lineup for the last two games, Jace McClellan provided a nice spark for the Crimson Tide Run game, and if Gibbs still can’t go Saturday, McClellan will need to step up again. One way to keep Auburn from getting aggressive with her pass rush is to establish a running game. Last year, Alabama wasn’t able to really put anything on the ground, and as a result, Auburn was able to flatten its ears and rush the quarterback without fear of a ground play. Against Power Five opponents that year, Auburn was fairly soft against the run, allowing 4.8 yards per rush attempt. While Bryce Young isn’t a running quarterback, he could have success on Saturday against an Auburn team that gave six of the eight Power Five quarterbacks they faced this season a quick touchdown.
This Iron Bowl could be the last time some of the coaches and coordinators put on the headset for their teams. With the rumors of Lane Kiffin possibly taking over the head coaching job for Auburn, the entire Auburn coaching staff could be different this time next year unless interim coach Cadillac Williams throws a big upset and really impresses the Auburn boosters. Essentially, the Auburn coaching staff is training for their jobs on Saturdays, whether it be in Auburn or at their next destination. On the Alabama touchline, Nick Saban doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, but a heavy loss to Auburn to round out a subpar season by Alabama standards and you just never know what might happen. The more realistic change for Alabama would be in the offensive coordinator position with Bill O’Brien. O’Brien is in hot water over his lack of success and vanilla play calling this season, and Bama fans are calling for a change. Despite his lack of success, O’Brien’s name has been thrown around for college head coaching jobs and even returned to the NFL as a coordinator. Regardless of whether he gets fired or gets another opportunity elsewhere, this will surely be his last Iron Bowl in Alabama.
Regardless of how big a competitor Bryce Young is, Saturday will most certainly be his last game at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and more than likely his last game in an Alabama jersey, as he is likely to be a top 10 NFL Draft pick is, and there is. He doesn’t have to adjust it for the bowl game that the tide ends up leading to. Young has had a lot of success at home, winning all 12 games he started, completing 73% of his passes for 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. It’s been a disappointing season of ups and downs for Young, amid injuries and dealing with a group of young receivers, but he wants to end his career in Alabama on a high and the Heisman Trophy winner will provide the home crowd with a spectacular finale .
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