The Good News / Bad News Article About the Upcoming Iron Bowl
By: Larry Burton
The close last minute win over Mississippi State and Auburn simply killing the number one team in the nation Georgia sent a shiver up the spine of the collective Alabama nation. Anybody who says differently is lying. Big bad Bama suddenly looked human, very human against a team that Auburn had already beaten by 38 points. Earlier in the day Bama fans watched Auburn finally come of age by putting on a show against a team that was supposed to be the best in the nation and certainly supposed to win. Suddenly all focus shifted to how Alabama would fare in the upcoming Iron Bowl.
Had Alabama played Auburn this past Saturday, they may not have won. Injuries with multiple linebackers and left guard Ross Pierschbacher left the game in the first quarter with a high ankle sprain and his replacement J.C. Hassenauer and the entire offensive line had problems giving up five sacks and two quarterback hurries against a defensive front that in all reality, isn’t quite as good as the one Auburn will field.
So Alabama fans and staff are right to be worried about this Auburn team. Conversely, Auburn is still worried that this was the wake up call that Alabama needed to get themselves in gear and play a complete game. The truth of what could happen is a little bit of bad news, a little bit of good new and a lot of just plain old fashioned blocking and tackling, pitching and catching and special teams play.
The bad news about the upcoming Iron Bowl is:
Auburn is peaking at just the right time. Auburn’s quarterback Jarrett Stidham is finally becoming the passing threat that Gus Malzhan envisioned when he brought him into the program. Combining this with Auburn’s highly effective ground game simply decimated a Georgia defense that many thought to be close to Alabama’s in size, strength and productivity.
One the other side of the ball, Auburn’s defense proved they could shut down the Georgia running game that was supposed to one of the SEC’s best. They were betting, and it proved to be correct, that Georgia’s quarterback couldn’t beat him with his arm. They may try that same approach with Alabama and if they shut down Alabama’s running game, Hurts may be pressed to win a game without being able to rely on a strong running game, something he has never had to do so far.
Auburn is playing the game almost 100% healthy while Alabama will still have players on the disabled list and others that may return, but still may not be at 100%.
Auburn’s defensive front will give Alabama their toughest test. Three likely starters on the Tide’s O line don’t rate out as well as the guys they’ll be facing.
Momentum is also clearly on Auburn’s side, not only from their big win over Georgia while Alabama struggled, but by the game being at Jordan-Haire Stadium.
The good news for Alabama fans is:
The experts and Las Vegas still favor Alabama, even if by a smaller margin now than before both played last week and they generally as a whole aren’t wrong about such things.
Alabama knows how to win, it is ingrained in their DNA, they play up to the level of their competition and do just a little more. Auburn has a history of needing a miracle in big situations. If they don’t get almost divine help, they choke.
The offenses: Auburn can’t afford to lose a running back, Alabama can afford to lose two and still have three great running backs. If Alabama can shut down Auburn’s main running back, Kerryon Johnson, the gap between him and number two is quite a divide. Alabama’s backs all have different quirks and tendencies and shutting them all down will be very difficult. Plus, keep this in mind. Kerryon Johnson, the guy who will handle the bulk of all their rushing, averages just 5.23 yards per carry. That’s much less yards per carry than seven of Alabama players than may carry the ball including quarterback Jalen Hurts. Alabama rushed for 202 yards against Miss. State, Auburn rushed for 244. Against LSU Auburn rushed for just 189 yards while Alabama rushed for just 116. So why is this in the good news section? Because when both these common teams put the squeeze on the rushing game, Alabama was able to be two dimensional by simply turning up the passing game. In the LSU game, Alabama passed for 183 yards and against Mississippi State they passed for 242. Proving that they could be a balanced offense. Auburn can be balanced too, but when their running game gets in trouble, Stidham is apt to try and do more than he should. He has three interceptions to Hurts one and can’t escape the pocket and rush for first downs like Hurts can.
Alabama may get some of injured players back by the Auburn game. That certainly can’t hurt. Even if not at 100%, their leadership will help as they rotate in and out.
Auburn does not do well in games that are hard fought and close. They lost a close tough game to Clemson out of the starting blocks and in a tough, physical game with LSU, they lost another close game. Alabama won it’s only tough, close game of the season and as said before, it just seems to be in their DNA to find a way to win those close games. Auburn looked gassed at the end of both their close losses, Alabama played it’s best ball of the night at the very end and was getting better.
Why Auburn lost those close games and Alabama won theirs is also because of the coaches. Alabama has Nick Saban and Auburn has Gus Malzahn. Saban is a master of making adjustments during the game and Malzahn has been criticized for being stubborn and sticking to his game plan no matter what. In close games, coaches make a big difference and no one puts Malzahn in Saban’s stratospheric ranking, not even close to being on the same planet.
Lastly, there’s the depth issue. Alabama wears teams out by coming at opponents in waves of rested great players. Let’s just say that Auburn’s starting 22 is close to being as good as Alabama’s and I’m sure not inferring they are. Now look at the next 22. Auburn’s second line is nowhere like Alabama’s, not in quality, not in playing time, not in being game ready. In the fourth quarter, there’s the big difference.
But here’s a totally different and totally unreliable set of reasons that Alabama fans can take as good news. They don’t have the same logic, statistics or certainty as those listed above, but I can’t not include them.
First of all, in the recent past, for Auburn to beat Alabama, there has to be a once in a lifetime kind of miraculous play for them to win. Usually it’s been Alabama simply out playing Auburn. I don’t see a last second “Kick Six” in this game. Alabama plays like Alabama and Auburn plays like Auburn and disappoints the fans in blue and orange.
Secondly, when I spend as much time studying the man on man matchups as I have in this and other games, my picks are uncannily correct. You can go back and read that I not only picked the winner of the opening game but the exact winning margin, 17 points. I said weeks ago that Mississippi State would be the trap game that would give the Tide trouble and predicted a close tough game. As for those man on man matchups, Auburn has an edge over three of our offensive linemen and that’s troubling, but Alabama has an edge almost everywhere else with few exceptions. To put it in print, Alabama by 9.
Lastly, Alabama is undefeated, playing like champions all season long and are the standard by which all other teams this season have been judged. Auburn stumbled twice this season and is playing like a very opportunistic good team, but not like a champion for the whole season. All your life you’ve heard this, because it’s true, the cream rises to the top and the regular milk sinks to the bottom.
Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter
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