The Iron Bowl Looms!
Tigers jumped on Alabama and never let up on the last Tide visit
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
War Eagle, everybody! This week is the biggest game of the season as the Auburn Tigers will host the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Alabama needs this win to stay in contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff. For Auburn, a chance to beat the Tide and spoil its season is reason enough. I also believe that Auburn’s having a 9–3 record vs. 8–4 will make for a much more desirable bowl destination. The better record would mean either a New Year’s Six bid or a trip to Disney World, at worst.
First, I’m going to go a little bit off topic today. This week has been dubbed “rivalry week” by the talking heads on TV, and we got a chance to watch a spirited battle in the Egg Bowl last night with Mississippi State hanging on for the win over Ole Miss. I watched with a certain amount of glee at the end as Ole Miss was penalized for an off-color gesture after an apparent game-tying touchdown with 4 seconds left. After the poor sportsmanship 15-yard flag, Ole Miss had to try a 35-yard extra point for the tie. Thanks to the flag, they missed it and lost the game. That is some karma! Mississippi State becomes bowl-eligible, and thus will get a couple more weeks of much-needed practice.
Back to the Iron Bowl, I have been pressing for weeks my wish for Auburn to open up the passing game on early downs. That might be a mistake against Alabama. The Tide is only 8th in the SEC at stopping the run but have a secondary full of defensive backs that will later be playing in the NFL. Auburn will have to have some unpredictability built in and not just hand off up the middle every down. I think the best plan will be to try and eat up some first downs and keep a very dangerous offense on the bench as much as possible. Auburn has not been consistent taking deep shots this season, and against Alabama the errant throws have a good chance at getting picked off.
I think Alabama’s biggest concern on offense is that quarterback Mac Jones will get his first road start in a hostile environment against a great front. However, Alabama’s offensive line is great as well, especially pass protecting. I see Alabama giving Jones quick pass options, much like other teams that have had some success against the Auburn defense. No team has been able simply to run right at Auburn and have much success. Auburn is going to have to tackle well and mix up some zone and man coverages to keep Jones guessing.
I expect a tight, low scoring ball game in this one. I don’t believe Auburn can keep up if the game turns into a track meet. Auburn also must win the special teams battle and punting to Jalen Waddle will be dicey. Waddle has returned 19 punts for 474 yards this season. That is a staggering 24.9 yards per return average. Auburn’s Christian Tutt is averaging 13.8 yards per punt return, also with 19 returns.
The weather should be pretty good for those attending this game. Kickoff temperatures will be around 70 degrees F with mostly cloudy skies. Rain will come to Lee County Saturday but not till the evening hours. We will have our usual Trackemtigers.com Open Thread up and running for this one. The game will kick off at 2:30 PM, Central Standard Time, and will be nationally televised on CBS.
A look at other SEC games this weekend after the jump!
The Egg Bowl at Starkville has already been played with Mississippi State beating Ole Miss 21–20, and becoming bowl eligible at 6–6. Ole Miss finishes the season at 4–8, but I believe that program is headed back up in the future. There is a lot of very young talent that got its feet wet this season.
Today at 1:30 PM, Missouri travels to Little Rock, Arkansas to take on the Razorbacks. Neither team is going bowling this season after Missouri’s NCAA bowl ban appeal was denied earlier this week. Missouri has struggled in recent weeks but should be able to win against the worst team in the SEC.
Saturday’s action opens up at 11:00 AM when Clemson visits South Carolina. At 4–7, South Carolina is home for the holidays, but Clemson is its arch rival. The Gamecocks have been known to cause fits to offenses from time to time.
Georgia travels to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech in early action. The Bulldogs can’t afford to let down in this game if they want to go to the Playoffs.
Completing the trifecta of 11:00 AM games, Louisville goes to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats. Louisville is a hard team to read. It has won some shootout games but also took a blowout loss to Miami a few weeks ago. Kentucky is decent on defense but has not been able to pass the ball well this year. Both teams are already bowl eligible.
The Iron Bowl kicks off at 2:30 PM from Auburn, Alabama. This is usually one of the most watched games of the year. Alabama is a slight favorite, but there are some unknowns in this one.
At 3:00 PM, Vanderbilt visits Tennessee. The Vols have improved dramatically in recent weeks, are already bowl eligible at 6–5, and should be able to improve their stock with a big win over Vanderbilt.
At 6:00 PM, Texas A&M heads into Death Valley to play LSU. The Aggies have had a decent season at 7–4, but will run into a buzz saw in this game, most likely. LSU has already clinched the SEC Western Division with an 11–0 record but needs to keep winning to sustain its spot in the playoff standings.
The Florida State Seminoles visit the Florida Gators at 6:30 PM. Florida should win this game easily as the Seminoles fired their head coach earlier this season and are likely looking ahead.
There are no SEC teams off this week. It was legislated a few years ago that teams can’t take the week before the SEC Championship Game off. Alabama and Auburn used to do that nearly every year.