It is the game that racks up the most ratings outside of the Super Bowl and the BCS National Championship Game. With the exceptions of 2011 and 2012, the Iron Bowl has not only been exciting, but one of the most competitive rivalry games to watch in college football. Though fans on both sides have witnessed some memorable moments in this rivalry, the matchup this Saturday has been coined to be the best one yet.
As far as history is concerned, Alabama and Auburn have met on the gridiron 77 times. The Crimson Tide leads the series 42-34-1. This season, the game will take place on Plains of Auburn, in Jordan-Hare Stadium (Pat Dye Field). CBS will air the game live at 2:30pm CT.
For the Alabama Crimson Tide, one team stands in between them and a trip to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, the Auburn Tigers. If there’s one thing Alabama fans are proud of, it is how much the offensive line has improved since week one.
After a rocky start to begin the season, the big boys up front have really started to gel well together and play as one unit. In five games this season, (Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia State and Chattanooga) the offensive line did a fabulous job of pass protecting as AJ McCarron wasn’t sacked in any of the five games. Along with protecting McCarron, the men in the trenches have really helped the Tide dominate opposing teams offensively. Behind the O-Line, the Crimson Tide has totaled 400+ yards of offense against seven teams (Texas A&M, Tennessee, Georgia State, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas and Chattanooga) this season.
Unlike Mississippi State, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas (rebuilding teams), Auburn is an established football team. Alabama can’t afford to make mistakes and turn the ball over in a hostile environment on the road. For running backs TJ Yeldon (164 carries for 1,022 yards and 12 touchdowns) and Kenyan Drake (88 carries for 661 yards and eight touchdowns), ball security will be crucial in this matchup. Despite both backs performing well statistically, combined they have six lost fumbles this season. Though it’s important for them to use their speed, quickness and vision, it will be imperative for them to hold the ball high and tight.
With Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel and Bryce Petty losing bitterly last week, McCarron can take one more step further and stamp his ticket to New York City (Heisman Presentation) with a sharp performance against the Tigers. As the leader of this offense, it will be his job to keep his guys calm and focused on the game, despite the crowd noise and the hype. McCarron will have to make great decisions with the football and not force anything downfield. Currently, he’s completing 68.6 percent of his passes for 2,399 yards, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions.
As for the Auburn Tigers, head coach Gus Malzahn has virtually placed himself in the driver’s seat for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award. In coming back to Auburn this season from Arkansas State, Malzahn has done a phenomenal job of resurrecting Auburn back from the 3-8 ashes last season to a 10-1 record and shot to play for a national title.
For Auburn, its success lies in the ground and pound game. The Tigers are second in the nation in rushing, averaging 320.3 yards per game. The beneficiaries of Malzahn’s philosophy are Tre Mason, Nick Marshall, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne.
Tre Mason is first in the SEC in rushing with 208 carries for 1,153 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns. Marshall is no Cameron Newton, but he is still pretty special. On the season, Marshall has 123 carries for 823 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns. Gant has totaled 56 carries for 557 yards (9.9 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. Artis-Payne has amassed 86 carries for 568 yards (6.6 yards per carry) and five touchdowns.
In order to defeat Auburn in Jordan-Hare, Alabama’s defense must make them one-dimensional. The Tigers haven’t been able to pass the ball a lot because the run game has been so dominant. For CJ Mosley and the gang, they have to take away the perimeter from Marshall, Mason and the rest of Auburn’s run threats. The Tide’s defense must stuff the run in the middle and prevent the Tigers from having a balanced game. Alabama’s defense line has to get pressure on Marshall and make him very uncomfortable in the pocket.
This season, Marshall is completing 58.4 percent of his passes for 1,530 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. Despite these being decent numbers for an SEC quarterback, Marshall has to be prepared to read the Tide’s defense and make smart decisions with his arm in this matchup if Alabama takes away the run.
Auburn doesn’t have a lot of physicality at the receiver position, but the one player that must come up clutch for Marshall is Sammie Coates. At 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, Coates is a physical talent that can go up and get the football. He has tremendous leaping ability along with great speed and soft hands. If Auburn decides to use Coates as a decoy, then this provides an opportunity for guys like Marcus Davis, Quan Bray and CJ Uzomah to have a productive game on the receiving end.
Thus far, Coates has 30 receptions for 687 yards and five touchdowns. Alabama’s secondary can’t afford to get caught up in the hype and lose focus on these receivers. It will be up to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Auburn’s offense is averaging 39.0 points per game, while the Tide’s defense is first in the nation, surrendering just 9.3 points per game. Defensively, the Tigers give up 22.0 points per game, while Alabama’s offense is scoring 39.7 (40.0) points per game. Something will give in this matchup and for the Crimson Tide; they hope it won’t be the defense.
This game will come down to which team can control the momentum, convert on third downs, minimize mistakes and penalties and create big time plays. For McCarron, he doesn’t want his legacy against Auburn to end up like former quarterback Greg McElroy (2010).
McElroy lost to the Tigers in 2010, McCarron wants to finish his career at 3-0 against Auburn. Many amazing moments have taken place in this historic rivalry from “The Drive” guided by McElroy in 2009 in Alabama’s 26-21 victory over Auburn to the “Camback” in 2010 in which Cam Newton brought the Tigers back from being down 24-7 at halftime to win 28-7. This Saturday, new memories will unfolded in the newest chapter of this rivalry. The question is who will want it more for chance to play in the SEC and BCS title?