Celebrations are in order!
(Photo by Acid Reign)
War Eagle, and Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! It’s a day to give thanks, to eat well, and to think ahead to Saturday’s clash of the titans. I’m thankful for the greatest rivalry in all of college sports, and we’ll get to see these two teams tangle in effectively a championship playoff. Alabama is ranked number one in the nation, and Auburn is fourth. The winner takes the SEC Western Division, and heads to Atlanta next weekend to play for the league title, and a possible berth in the final BCS Championship Game in Pasadena.
I’m thankful this morning for quite a few things, not the least of which is that my whole family is home and healthy for this weekend, even if some of us are still a little sleep-deprived. It’s that time of year. I’m thankful to live in what is still the greatest country in the world. I’m thankful to have a warm bed and a roof over my head, and enough to eat every day. And I’m ever thankful to Jay Coulter and War Eagle Atlanta for talking me into this gig. And the biggest thanks of all goes to AubTigerman, who really kept things going on this site behind the scenes when we were having difficulties last fall.
I’d be lying if I said I had a good feel of how this year’s Iron Bowl is going to go. Many folks point to 2009 and expect a repeat of Auburn jumping out front and holding on. I don’t really see it. Both teams are different, this year. Alabama is certainly not as one-dimensional on offense, and Auburn has been, this season. For the Auburn defense, it’s not a simple matter of stuffing Yeldon and being in the clear. Alabama will throw it on first down, and A. J. McCarron will make his pre-snap reads and check off correctly. Any chance of stopping Alabama begins with winning some battles up front, and successfully disguising what is happening in the back seven.
On offense, I’d expect that Alabama will have some concepts Auburn hasn’t seen much of on film, ready for this game. They’ve done that sort of thing the past three years, and gashed the Auburn defense for multiple early touchdowns. My gut feel is that we’ll see some spread out, quick passing things early, but it’s also worth nothing that teams like Arkansas and Tennessee have had recent success just lining up heavy and running at Auburn. Bama could mix it up, trying to keep the Auburn defense off balance.
Line play for Auburn will be critical on defense. Alabama has protected their quarterback well this season, giving up only 9 sacks. Auburn pass rushers must realize that they probably won’t get there, so get those hands up and get in position when the quarterback’s arm starts cocking. Needless to say, gumming up running lanes is essential. Auburn has been particularly vulnerable on draws and off tackle runs this season, as Auburn ends often rush too far up field, or crash the middle. I’d figure on not a few 2nd or 3rd and long draw plays.
Auburn’s back 7 philosophy this season has been to not give up the deep ball, and that must continue. Alabama will take a shot here and there, and the safeties must be ready for it. Auburn corners must try to make plays on the ball when they have support behind them. It’s not enough to just stay with the receiver. Chris Davis and Jonathan Mincy are both in the top 5 in the SEC in passes defended, and they’ll have to continue to play at that level.
There is unlikely to be any special teams advantage in this game. Both teams kick off and punt pretty well, and opponents don’t get much out of the return game. Alabama leads the SEC in net punting with 42.0 yards per, and Auburn is 3rd with 40.7. Alabama has given up a total of just 57 punt return yards on the season, while Auburn has given up just 16. Both teams are in the middle of the pack in the league in kick coverage, although Auburn does lead the league in touchbacks, with 57 on 78 kickoffs. I’d expect Auburn to just kick it to the end zone against Bama, and not allow Christion Jones a chance to do any damage.
It’s a given that Alabama is going to move the ball and score some points, because everyone else Auburn has played has done that. What Auburn must do is produce yards and points on offense. The biggest burden will fall on the Auburn offensive line. These guys have been phenomenal this season, but they face a big challenge with Alabama’s talented front seven. If Auburn has any pre-snap tendencies, Alabama will find them, and try to take the primary option away. With many defenses, one can declare them either a 1-gap or 2-gap defense. With Alabama, it can go either way. They often move a linebacker up on the line and play 1-gap, and I’d expect to see a lot of this to take away Tre Mason in the middle. Alabama likes to clog the middle and force play to the sideline, where they can use their superior speed.
The Tigers will need a few short throws over the middle if Alabama commits a player to each gap. Look for the Tide to “slow play” Auburn’s option looks, and wait for help to arrive. I fully expect that Auburn’s first strategy will be to see if Alabama can be blown off the ball with quick-hitting running plays. I’ll be shocked if Auburn’s first play isn’t either inside power, or play-action off of it, with some sort of decoy sweep motion.
I think that the opportunity is there for Auburn to hit some big passes down the field, but attempting those passes plays into Alabama’s hands if they aren’t successful. Does Auburn dare throw deep on first down, knowing that a first down is unlikely from 2nd and 10? I think they at least have to try it a few times.
This can be said about most games, but Auburn needs to be turnover free. Ball carriers must hold onto the ball, receivers must catch it, and quarterbacks must make good throws. There’s not a lot of room for error against the SEC’s top defense.
We’ll have our usual open thread up bright and early for the Iron Bowl on Saturday, and our usual play by play. Be sure to tune in, and join in the fun! War Eagle, and let’s beat Bama!