A Matchup To Be Thankful For!
There goes Davis!
War Eagle everybody, and Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s hoping everyone is having a great day. I have to say this has been a very fun week, thinking about the titanic Iron Bowl game coming up this Saturday. We always hope for the best in this game, but the last two years I realistically did not think Auburn had much chance to win. I tended just to try to occupy my mind with other things during game week. This year, I’ve relished running scenarios on the game over and over in my mind. I’ve watched a ton of YouTube of both teams. I can’t wait for Saturday because this year, Auburn can win this thing.
Honestly, this is the matchup we want. It’s not as much fun when one team or the other isn’t very good. Me, I hate it when Auburn’s ranked and Alabama isn’t. We have lost a few of those or struggled to a close win. This year, both teams are still in play for the SEC and national titles. It’s two heavyweights, going toe to toe to see who is the best. That’s the kind of Iron Bowl I want!
A lot has changed since I did my preview of this game back in August. Injuries have impacted both teams. I did not foresee Auburn’s slow offensive start nor the special teams issues. I did not see Alabama building on the offense it had with Lane Kiffin. I expected regression. Instead, Alabama has been able to add to what it had and has been scoring a LOT of points. I certainly did not see Auburn crushing Georgia!
Views on unit matchups after the jump!
On the defensive line, Auburn needs to win like it has in every game this year. If Alabama is able win this battle, or even battle to a draw, Auburn is in trouble on defense. The good news is that Auburn’s defensive line has won the line of scrimmage decisively in every game Auburn has played this year and should win again this year. Auburn must disrupt a fast, powerful Alabama running game and pressure Jalen Hurts. Even if Auburn accomplished all of the above, this is still a dangerous offense to deal with.
Linebacker play concerns me on the Auburn side. With Tré Matthews in the game, Auburn can usually slam the door on any team’s running game. Without him, Auburn has given up the occasional big play. Whether Matthews plays or not is a big deal.
Auburn has been very good this season at limiting the other team’s best receiver. Even Christian Kirk was limited this year against Auburn. The Tigers will try to take Calvin Ridley away this week. Can anyone else burn the Auburn secondary, and will Alabama try to get it to him? Can Auburn contain Ridley? He’s as fast as we’ve seen at the receiver position. The good news here is that Auburn has been able to cover well at corner and nickel as well as at the safety positions.
The punting game of the respective schools is a scary matchup. Auburn will lose the field position battle badly if we have those ugly 30 yard punts. Alabama has the best punter in the nation, and he routinely booms them over 50 yards. Auburn can’t give up a big return, either. So far, Auburn mostly fair catches and luckily has not turned the ball over. We have had a disturbing trend towards seeing Auburn blockers get shoved into returner Stephen Roberts while he’s trying to catch the punt.
Both teams tend to kick touchbacks, although Alabama will sometimes try to coffin-corner the ball and limit the return. Auburn does have true freshman Noah Igbinoghene back there AND hasn’t blocked kick returns well at all. I’d expect Alabama to put some pressure on the Tide in this department.
On place kicking, Auburn’s Daniel Carlson is 19 of 25 on field goals, and Alabama’s kickers are 16 of 22. Carlson has hit 59 touchbacks on 80 kickoffs. Alabama’s J. K. Scott has hit 41 touchbacks on 86 kickoffs.
The key matchup for the Auburn offense starts up front. Auburn must block Alabama’s front and establish at least a little bit of a running game. When opposing teams like Clemson and LSU were able to shut Auburn’s run game down, Auburn tended to get killed on sacks.
When Auburn runs the ball, I think it may be able to create some confusion in the Alabama linebacker corps due to injuries and youth. I have little doubt that Alabama has worked on Auburn’s packages for the past 2 weeks, and it’s worth noting that Alabama did a good job shutting down dangerous backs against Texas A&M and LSU.
A key to battles in the secondary is the health of All-World DB Minkah Fitzpatrick. He’s able to play any spot in the secondary very well, if he can run. And Alabama has really fast corner Anthony Averett, who will likely be matched up on Darius Slayton. Slayton has been able to run by most corners in recent games while Jarrett Stidham just heaves it as far as he can. That’s worked for some big Auburn plays, but it likely won’t against Averett. Auburn must instead try to scheme and try to create some coverage busts against less experienced guys like Hootie Jones or Tony Brown.
One bothersome thing in the Auburn receiving game is that Auburn is often limiting in whom it will throw the ball to in certain circumstances. We see Slayton mostly on deep balls. We see Ryan Davis on quick screens and slants. If Auburn is predictable on routes and where the ball is going, Alabama has the secondary to capitalize on that. Auburn must be a little unpredictable here.
If I were calling Alabama’s defense, I’d run blitz on first down, bring 7 or 8 guys on 2nd and long, and rush 5 with a stunt on 3rd and long. When Jarrett Stidham has time to throw, he’s been deadly. Alabama cannot afford to give him that time. When Auburn has had to convert 3rd and long, the offense hasn’t been nearly as good. The only caveat to Alabama blitzes is that in recent weeks Auburn started to kill blitz packages on checkdown throws. Auburn’s screen game has come on lately.
A big worry this week is quarterback Jarrett Stidham. He has progressed magnificently this year, but he has not seen a game with the intensity of an Iron Bowl. I’d feel much better if he was a second year starter and had played Bama before. What Auburn cannot have, and be successful, is turnovers. Stidham must take care of the ball. Auburn has proved the last two seasons that its defense can keep it in an Iron Bowl. Gifting Alabama would definitely kill Auburn’s chances.
Here on Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful for this Auburn Tiger team. Regardless of what happens in the Iron Bowl, this has been a very fun year gifted to us by these Tigers! We’ll likely do no worse than a New Year’s Six bowl game and might well win championships.
I hope everyone has a great and thankful day. I’m gonna feast, watch the egg bowl tonight, and follow with some games and putting the Christmas Tree up tomorrow. Saturday, I’ll have our usual Open Thread up and running, and I plan to watch every second of this Iron Bowl. I’ll be at my keyboard for the usual play by play. War Eagle and let’s smash Alabama!