Last week’s chaos in college football played right into the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide as they leaped back to #2 in the BCS Standings heading into the Iron Bowl against Auburn. For all intents and purposes, if the Crimson Tide defeats the Tigers tomorrow at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, they will punch their ticket to New Orleans barring the pollsters don’t vote someone else #2 just to avoid a rematch between Alabama and LSU for the BCS Championship.
With LSU shellacking Arkansas today in Baton Rouge, they clinched a spot in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia next week. That means this is Alabama’s final opportunity to make a statement to the pollsters that they deserve to play for the BCS Championship on January 9th at the SuperDome. Just a win and Alabama is still likely to play for the Title, but if they are able to win convincingly over Auburn tomorrow, they should erase any doubt left.
Two years ago, Alabama was in an eerily similar situation on the Plains. Alabama entered that game with National Title implications on the line, and a Heisman frontrunner looking to bolster his hopes of winning the award in Mark Ingram. The same holds true in 2011 with Trent Richardson replacing Mark Ingram.
Richardson looks to be a workhorse once again for the Crimson Tide in this game like he has the last few weeks. Eddie Lacy is still hampered by turf toe, and while he should play, he won’t be at 100%. Auburn has been woeful against the run in 2011, ranking 98th in the country and giving up over 193 yards per game on the ground. That should have Alabama fans salivating, but it should be remembered that Auburn has done a great job at shutting down the Crimson Tide’s running game the last two years even with underwhelming seasonal statistics.
It is extremely important for Alabama to run the ball and run the ball effectively tomorrow afternoon in Auburn. AJ McCarron has struggled mightily in recent weeks, and the coaching staff does not want to have to rely on his arm to win the game. Auburn’s secondary is pretty weak, and even more so after the season ending injury to T’Sharvan Bell. McCarron will need to be effective throwing the football to back the Auburn defense off the line of scrimmage.
Undoubtedly, Auburn will stack the box to stop Richardson and force McCarron to make plays. AJ is certainly capable of doing so, but he will have to play better than he has in recent weeks to prevent this game from being an ugly, low scoring contest. If McCarron is able to hit on some big throws in the early part of the game, it should back Auburn up and lead to some big runs by Trent Richardson.
Defensively, I expect Alabama to be stout as per the usual. They don’t rank at the top of most major statistical categories for no reason. While they struggled against Georgia Southern’s triple-option attack last week, that game should be thrown out the window because that offense is a different animal entirely. Truthfully, defending that attack should better prepare them for Gus Malzahn’s offensive attack.
Auburn uses a lot of motion and moving parts in their offense much like an option attack, so Alabama used last week’s game against the Eagles as a glorified scrimmage to better prepare for the Tigers.
Stopping Auburn’s run will be front and center for Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. Auburn’s two-headed running back stable of Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb has had success this season, and Dyer is well over 1000 yards rushing for the season. The Tigers run the ball a lot more than they pass, so it will be up to the Alabama defensive front to make plays and force Auburn out of their comfort zone.
Alabama gave up over 300 yards rushing to Georgia Southern last week, but they were playing without some big time contributors on the defensive line in Josh Chapman, Jesse Williams, and Nick Gentry. All three of those guys should be good to go this weekend, and will shore up Alabama’s defensive line issues from a week ago. Auburn’s offensive line has had its fair share of struggles in 2011, so Alabama’s defensive line needs to impose its will to stop the Tigers run game.
Passing the ball has without a doubt been a major weakness for Auburn this season, despite the presence of talented receiver Emory Blake. Auburn has shuffled three quarterbacks this season and Clint Mosley will be the starter tomorrow afternoon. Mosley has been far from impressive this season with his only good showings coming against Ole Miss and Samford. He struggled against the higher competition of the SEC in LSU and Georgia.
For the season, Auburn is averaging just over 161 yards per game through the air this season, which is good for 106th in the country. The main concern for the Crimson Tide’s secondary in tomorrow’s game will be last week’s season ending injury to Will Lowery who started in the Tide’s Dime package.
With Lowery out, look for Vinnie Sunseri to get the call in his place, and if Sunseri struggles than for Mark Barron to be moved back there and Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix to take Barron’s spot when Alabama goes to six defensive backs. I hate that Lowery was injured, but I’m excited to see some playing time on defense for the freshman Sunseri. He’s been a special teams monster all season long coming in as just a three-star recruit out of Tuscaloosa.
This is the game that Alabama players and fans alike have had circled on their calendar’s for the last 365-days since witnessing last season’s collapse against Auburn that led to a 28-27 defeat at Bryant-Denny Stadium. That scoreboard with the words “Never Again” have been posted in Alabama’s locker rooms and weight rooms since that day, and you can bet it is still fresh on Alabama’s minds headed into tomorrow’s game.
That loss to Auburn has been the fuel to the fire of the 2011 Crimson Tide, and I can’t see them slipping up against Auburn with revenge on their minds and so much riding on the game.
Auburn’s 7-4 record coming into the Iron Bowl is better than most imagined after a near-upset in the season opener against Utah State, but they have struggled mightily against the upper-echelon competition. Auburn has lost to Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia by an average of 32 points, and while they should fare better against the Crimson Tide since it is such a big rivalry game, I don’t expect them to fare much better.
With it being a rivalry game that has produced closer games over the years than many imagined, it wouldn’t shock me if this game was closer than the spread and what I’m predicting. But, I think Alabama is too determined and focused to right last season’s wrong and to hopefully clinch a spot in New Orleans to slip up against Auburn.
PICK: Alabama 31, Auburn 7