With the Iron Bowl closing in, I took some time to talk with the good folks at WarBlogle.com about what Auburn fans are expecting from their team. Below is the transcript from our talk. You find find him on Twitter at @WarBlogle.
Q: Before we get to this Saturday’s game, let’s talk rivalry. Is there any difference in playing this game as an 11-0 team or a 6-5 team? Or does it all mean the same to the team and fan base?
It’s always the same to me. I get nostalgic. I think about Pat Dye. I think about Bear Bryant. I think about paper shakers. I think about the 80’s. Obviously, there’s added pressure if you’re 11-0, and 6-5 is all about ruining the other team’s season, but it still has that “best rivalry in sports” feeling no matter what.
Q: Everyone seems to think this will be a blowout. What can Auburn do to keep the 2015 Iron Bowl competitive?
They need to stop Derrick Henry on the first three drives. They need to feed off the home crowd. They need to be safe on offense, but also throw it all out the window. I don’t think these teams playing at their best are very separated. Auburn’s defense has been a different unit since Carl Lawson has returned. Save weird Georgia game, and Auburn’s offense as improved since losing to LSU. It could be a close game, especially at Jordan-Hare.
Q: Jeremy Johnson has had his struggles but he has also showed signs of a more than competent quarterback. Who would give Auburn a better chance of winning, Johnson or Sean White?
Right now it’s Jeremy Johnson just because he’s healthy. I trust Sean’s arm more, but Jeremy does have a legitimate chance of gaining yards on the ground. It’s just about keeping him confident and that comes from him not showing an inexplicable interception. I don’t think either will be the starting quarterback next year, but right now you have to go with Jeremy.
Q: 55-44 in last season’s Iron Bowl. This year could be completely different with defenses being each team’s strength. What is the magic number for Auburn’s offense to score to have a chance?
I think Auburn has to score at least 27. Alabama’s strength is wearing down teams in the 4th quarter behind Derrick Henry. If Alabama leads by a touchdown or less entering the 4th quarter, the excitement in the stadium will be enough to help the defense make the stops they need. Alabama can score, but in their biggest rivalry game of the season (Tennessee), they needed a last minute touchdown to score 19.
Q: Auburn runs out a lot of running backs every game but has run into a struggle with how to manage them. Will it be more important to stick with the hot hand or to keep the backfield fresh against the Tide’s front seven?
I think it should be a heavy dose of Jovon Robinson with some Kerryon Johnson wildcat sprinkled in. They have proven to be the most explosive backs this season. Peyton Barber has put the work in and was the lone bright spot for Auburn for a few weeks, so he’s going to get his touches. But Auburn needs to run Jovon. He’s the best big play option.
Q: Derrick Henry may be the Heisman frontrunner right now. What can the Auburn defense do to stop him and the Alabama offense?
Auburn’s rush defense stats are still pretty bad, but most of those numbers are from the first half of the season when Carl Lawson was injured. Since his return, offensive lines can’t double team other defensive linemen, which has opened them up to stop the run. As I said, it’s a completely different unit. What Auburn needs is a stellar game from Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy. They are both two very passionate senior leaders that haven’t had great seasons against the run, but they’ll need to step up to stop Henry.
Q: If there was one X-factor in this game for Auburn, who would it be and why?
Gus Malzahn’s style is the X-factor. Even a team that ended up with 5 losses last season was able to put 44 on Kirby Smart’s defense. Texas A&M, who runs a similar offense outscored Alabama’s offense earlier this season. For whatever reason, it just seems to work against Saban. As bad as Auburn’s offense has looked this season, you can still see flashes. With the Iron Bowl, especially only playing for maybe one higher bowl slot, Malzahn is going to leave it all out on the field. That has to scare Alabama.
Q: Finally, what is your prediction for the game Saturday?
I made a vow a few years ago to never pick Auburn to lose. Who am I kidding? I’ve done that since birth. So my Auburn-biased prediction is that Auburn’s defense will make stops in the first half to fire up the crowd and put hope into the Auburn players. Alabama will tie it up late in the 4th quarter, but Daniel Carlson will win it on a 57-yarder. 27-24 Auburn.
Caleb Turrentine is a contributor at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter, @CalebTurrentine.