GAME NOTES: The second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide eye up an SEC West title
and subsequent spot in the SEC Championship Game, as they play host to arch-
rival Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl.
Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide took a break from conference action last week and
made light work of Western Carolina in Alabama’s Homecoming, 48-14. With the
victory, Alabama moved to 10-1 on the season. This is the regular-season
finale, with the Crimson Tide sitting at 6-1 in conference play, tied with
Mississippi State, which the Tide beat two weeks ago (25-20) to gain the
Saban is aware of this game’s relevance in terms of the rivalry.
“I think the Iron Bowl is one of the greatest rivalries in college football.
This game means a lot to a lot of people in this state, regardless of which
side you’re on, and also around the country.”
A tough couple of weeks have relegated Gus Malzahn’s Tigers to the role of
spoiler. Auburn dropped back-to-back games to Texas A&M (41-38) and Georgia
(34-7) in early November to fall to 4-3 in the SEC. The Tigers were able to
get back in the win column last weekend in a rout of Samford (31-7).
This marks the 79th meeting in this longstanding rivalry. Alabama holds a
42-35-1 series advantage although it was Auburn that won the matchup a year
ago, 34-28 with a miracle return at the end of the game. This is the 67th
straight year that these two teams have met dating back to 1948.
Auburn may be out of the conference race, but the team remains dangerous
thanks to great balance on the offensive side of the football. The Tigers are
averaging 476.4 yards per game, with over 200 yards rushing (266.2) and
Quarterback Nick Marshall has had his hand in both areas. He has completed
just under 60 percent of his passes, for 1,959 yards and 15 TDs, while ranking
second on the team in rushing with 731 yards and 11 more scores.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee knows there is something special with
Marshall when he’s under the bright lights.
“When the tough moments or the pressure moments come you usually see a little
bit of a change in demeanor. As a coach, you wish they were all that way all
the time, but it’s also a great character trait he has that when things are
tight or tough or when it’s crunch time, he’s usually at his best,” Lashlee
Tailback Cameron Artis-Payne has matched Marshall’s TD total on the ground and
leads the team with an impressive 1,405 yards on 5.6 yards per carry.
There isn’t a prolific receiver on the roster, with D’haquille Williams (38
rec, 609 yds, 5 TDs) leading all pass catchers. He has missed a couple of
games, but may suit up in this one.
The Auburn defense has had its ups and downs this season, with the team
allowing 375.0 yards per game. Opponents are rushing for 142.5 yards per
outing and passing for 232.5. The squad has recorded 19 sacks on the season
and forced 21 turnovers, including 16 INTs.
Linebacker Cassanova McKinzy leads Auburn in total tackles (80) and TFL (10),
with one INT, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble. Defensive back
Jonathan Jones has just 29 stops on the year, but is a ball hawk with a team-
best five INTs.
Alabama has moved the ball with ease as well, gaining 204.9 yards per game
rushing and 279.9 passing. The playmakers at the skill positions are as good
as any in the nation, but this is an offense that is led by quarterback Blake
The senior signal caller has really opened up Alabama’s passing attack,
completing 62.1 percent of his passes, for 2,676 yards, with 20 TDs against
just four INTs. He has also shown the ability to scramble at times, with 279
yards and five TDs on the ground.
It definitely helps to have the nation’s top wideout at his disposal. Junior
Amari Cooper is playing at an All-America level, hauling in 90 balls, for
1,349 yards and 11 TDs thus far.
Alabama’s backfield boasts a potent one-two punch with tailbacks T.J. Yeldon
(758 yards, 6 TDs) and Derrick Henry (682 yards, 7 TDs).
Alabama has not just flourished on offense, but on defense as well. One of the
nation’s premier units, Alabama is holding foes to just 14.5 ppg and a meager
283.1 yards of total offense. The team has been particularly stingy against
the run, giving up just 84.8 yards on 2.7 yards per carry.
Reggie Ragland (83 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 FR) and Trey DePriest (64
tackles, 1 FF) lead from the linebacking corps. Safety Landon Collins (75
tackles, 3 INTs) has played like an All-American in the secondary.
This game is always a drag-em-out brawl and this year should be no different.
The Crimson Tide know how to close things out though and in front of the home
crowd expect Alabama to get the win and take the divisional crown.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Alabama 34, Auburn 24