Unbeaten and top-ranked Alabama can earn some payback Saturday afternoon when it hosts Southeastern Conference rival Auburn in the 85th Iron Bowl.
The Crimson Tide (7-0, 7-0 SEC) are more than three-touchdown favorites against the Tigers, who have not triumphed in Tuscaloosa since 2010.
No. 22 Auburn (5-2, 5-2), however, knocked Alabama out of playoff contention last season in a 48-45 thriller – only the Tigers’ third win in the series in the past decade.
Oddsmakers don’t believe this game will be nearly as close as last season’s slugfest.
“This is going to be a very challenging game for us in a lot of ways,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We certainly need to play our best football of the season to be able to have success in this game.”
Both teams won last week following layoffs due to COVID-19 issues.
Alabama, which leads the all-time Iron Bowl series 46-37-1, routed Kentucky 63-3 in Tuscaloosa while Auburn won its third consecutive game by beating Tennessee 30-17 at home.
Alabama enters the game with the third-highest-scoring offense in the nation (49.4 points per game) and third-most-prolific passing offense, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Mac Jones at quarterback.
Jones made his third career start in last year’s Iron Bowl, throwing for 335 yards and four touchdowns, but he threw two costly interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
In seven games this season, Jones has the third-highest passer rating in the nation (205.06), per CFBStats.com, while averaging 12.1 yards per attempt and 346.6 yards per game.
“People are playing us different,” Jones said. “Maybe a little more conservative and rightfully so, but each week a team is going to have a different plan for us.”
Auburn sophomore quarterback Bo Nix is no slouch either, throwing for 1,627 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, with five interceptions.
But the key could be which team runs the ball more efficiently.
Auburn could be short-handed in that department if freshman Tank Bigsby (527 yards rushing, five touchdowns, 5.73 yards per carry) can’t play. Bigsby suffered a hip injury early in last week’s win over Tennessee and is questionable, according to Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. Right tackle Brodarious Hamm and left tackle Alec Jackson also are questionable.
Junior Shaun Shivers, who scored the decisive touchdown in last year’s Iron Bowl win for Auburn, would be in line to get more carries again, as well as sophomore D.J. Williams. The two combined for 131 yards and a touchdown last week.
Alabama’s run defense ranks 26th in the nation, according to CFBStats.com, allowing an average of 118.9 yards per game.
“Obviously, it’s no secret right now that we’ve been beat up, up front offensively,” Malzahn said. “We’ll see if we’re able to get our tackles back. … It’s next man up. And just got to step up and get the job done. So that’s our mindset.”
Alabama’s rushing offense ranks 48th among FBS teams, averaging 182.4 yards a game; however, Auburn’s run defense ranks 64th, allowing 165.1 yards per game. Tide senior Najee Harris (137 carries for 797 yards this season) leads the nation with 16 rushing touchdowns.
Malzahn praised the way Alabama typically can make effective in-game adjustments to compensate for perceived weaknesses.
“If you hurt them with something, they’re going to have an answer right off the bat,” Malzahn said.
–Field Level Media