From the Eagle’s Nest
The 2016 Iron Bowl may very well be the most significant for Gus Malzahn since he arrived on the Plains as head coach in 2013. While this season has produced many unexpected bright spots, several games have left Auburn fans wondering just how far along this football team really is in taking the next step.
Tomorrow’s matchup against #1 Alabama is a prime opportunity for this coaching staff to show that it is ready to truly take the next step in competing with our cross-state rival. And it won’t occur with the Tigers having their best offensive at 100%.
Kamryn Pettway is scheduled to return, but I am skeptical as to just how effective he can be running the football. Even with a completely healthy Pettway, I believe Auburn would still struggle to move the ball on the ground against Alabama as well as it has against other opponents.
There’re also question marks surrounding the health and availability of quarterback Sean White. To me, this is the most crucial aspect of tomorrow’s contest. If White can’t make the start in Bryant-Denny, I think the Tigers’ chances of winning the game dip to around 5%. Maybe less.
Now, I’m not trying to be the bearer of bad news. I just don’t genuinely believe any other quarterback on Auburn’s roster gives it a legitimate chance at winning this game.
Quarterbacks aside, another key issue I am concerned with entering this game is the offensive game plan, regardless of who ends up taking the snaps. This coaching staff has shown many instances of completely noncreative play calling. That concerns me very much. Alabama is not a team that can be beaten, in my opinion, by attempting to keep things conservative and waiting on opportunities to strike. That mindset leads to a 31–9 (or worse) 4th quarter deficit in my eyes.
I believe Auburn has to be aggressive by taking chances down field and forcing the issue. Even with Pettway and White both 100% healthy, I don’t think Auburn’s strategy should be any different. Realistically, Kamryn Pettway was never going to be expected to pound an Alabama defense into submission. Believing that would simply lead to a broken heart.
When I’ve seen this team play conservatively and “gimmicky” this season, I’ve seen a team that appears scared and weak. I don’t want to see that team show up in Bryant-Denny Stadium tomorrow afternoon. I want to see a team that’s motivated and prepared to take every opportunity it can to take the wind out of the Tide’s sails. I want to see Gus Malzahn go for it, for once, instead of waiting on it to come to him.
Gus Malzahn doesn’t have to win the 2016 Iron Bowl to win back my heart or reignite the fan base. He simply has to recreate the spark and reemphasize the fear in Alabama football that lead to it cloning our offense in the first place. I can stomach Auburn’s mistakes, triumphs, and failures in tomorrow’s game if they are products of aggression and game-winning efforts—not from a team playing and a man coaching simply to lose by not a lot.