A month ago most people would have predicted an obvious blowout in the 87th Iron Bowl. That was before Bryan Harsin was fired and before Alabama lost to LSU. Carnell “Cadillac” Williams breathed life into the program, which had resonated with his players, and has five Auburn wins in two of their last three games.
The LSU Bayou Bengals are a strong team, especially at home, but the loss for the Crimson Tide has all but officially eliminated them from CFP competition, even though there may be a tight path for the Tide. Now, while the range is still -22 in favor of the Crimson Tide, there could be a way forward for this Auburn team that believes in their coach.
Here are five keys to the Tigers’ victory.
1. Keep the crowd away from it
Despite Alabama’s near-unprecedented home success, Bryant-Denny Stadium is not considered a premier college football stadium. Even so, and even though this is the first Iron Bowl since 2010 without a national championship or a CFP berth for the Tide at stake, it’s still one of college football’s best rivalries and still a chance for Alabama’s three straight towards Auburn.
With a freshman quarterback under center, Auburn will need a slow, defensive play to limit big plays from Tide early on. If Alabama can open the playbook in the first quarter, the 100,000+ fans at Bryant-Denny will be relentless for the rest of the game.
2. The weather
While forecasts for mid-game rain have cleared up, pre-game rain on Friday could turn the field into a mud chaos ahead of the 87th meeting between these teams and showcase the strength of Auburn’s new-look offense. Cadillac wants his team to lead the game and likes the Tigers to have their way, and bad weather works in Auburn’s favor and could force the Crimson Tide to go down as well. That would add to Auburn’s strength defensively on offense, but either way, weather will ultimately be a factor in the game regardless of who benefits.
3. The dynamic duo in Auburn’s backfield
Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter have been one of the most anticipated running back duos this season, and while the season has gotten off to a slow start, both have found their feet in the last two weeks. Under Cadillac’s leadership, Auburn has run the ball more and found more local success en route to back-to-back games, with both Bigsby and Hunter eclipsing 100 yards. If Auburn is going to have a chance in Tuscaloosa, both running backs need to show up and take the pressure off freshman quarterback Robby Ashford.
4. The health of the Auburn line of defense
The Auburn defensive line has been the anchor of the Tigers’ defense for years, especially during this late-season turnaround for the team. As Cadillac said Monday, Auburn will need everyone on deck, and as of Monday the Tigers had three players along the defensive line on daily duty. Jeffrey M’Ba went down against Texas A&M and couldn’t play against Western Kentucky. Marcus Harris and Marquis Burks both went down against the Hilltoppers. While none of the injuries were serious, Auburn’s defensive line has been thin all year, with Derick Hall and Colby Wooden playing the most snaps in every game this season. M’Ba, Harris and Burks may not be Wooden and Hall’s playmakers, but they’re a crucial part of that defensive line, and Auburn will need the full-strength unit to have a chance against Alabama.
5. Complete the Alabama Run game
Bryce Young is the former Heisman Trophy winner, but without John Metchie and Jameson Williams, the Crimson Tide’s airstrike under offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is struggling. After throwing 47 touchdowns in 15 games last season, he has only 24 in the first 11 games of his sophomore year as a starter. Alabama isn’t a run-first team, but the Tide is averaging 199.5 yards per game on the field Boden, No. 25 in the country. If Auburn can limit that, it will force Young into more passing situations, and Alabama’s two losses this season came from Young attempting 50+ passes.
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