The calm before the storm: 5 things you need to know about next week’s Iron Bowl
The stage has been cleared. Everything seems to be a go, and as a result, next week’s Iron Bowl should be the most significant since Auburn’s amazing “kick-six” in 2013.
Alabama has once again been steady this season, coming into the Iron Bowl with a perfect record (assuming victory this week against Mercer) for the fourth time under head coach Nick Saban. That path has led the Crimson Tide to another No. 1 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Auburn, on the other hand, has climbed to No. 6 after dropping two games — one to No. 2 Clemson and the other to No. 20 LSU — by a combined total of 12 points. Most recently, the Tigers laid a 40-17 beatdown on Georgia, which was No. 1 at the time.
Both teams are facing off against non-Power 5 opponents this weekend, but we decided to go ahead and look towards next week’s showdown.
Here are five things you need to know about the upcoming Iron Bowl:
1. Auburn hasn’t won Iron Bowl since the kick-six
The 100-yard return by former Auburn defensive back Chris Davis will forever be remembered as one of the best — if not the best — plays in the history of the rivalry.
It vaulted the Tigers back into the national championship conversation while spoiling any such talk for the Tide.
With that said, Auburn hasn’t defeated the Tide since that night of Nov. 30, 2013.
They’re 0-3 and have been outscored 114-69 during that time span — an average score of 38-23.
2. Alabama could be without Pierschbacher
There might not be a hotter defensive line in the country right now than Auburn’s.
The Tigers racked up four sacks and six quarterback hurries last week against a Georgia offensive line that had otherwise been impressive this season. On top of that, they also kept the Bulldogs’ run game in check — only allowing 46 yards on the day.
That’s not good news for Alabama. Not only has the offensive line struggled recently, but starting left guard Ross Pierschbacher — who is considered one of the unit’s top players — could be out with an ankle injury.
It’s not an ideal situation for the Crimson Tide, which might send their offensive line into Jordan-Hare Stadium, against a formidable defensive front, down a man.
3. Both offenses are built from the ground up
Auburn’s offense has found more balance this season with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback, but this is still an offense that is built on the run first.
Junior running back Kerryon Johnson leads the SEC in rushing yards (1,035) and is tied for first in rushing touchdowns (15) despite missing two games this season.
Johnson is the workhorse for that Tigers offense, but we can’t forget about last year’s leading rusher Kamryn Pettway. At 6 feet 0, 236 pounds, he is the perfect back to spell Johnson and contribute to wearing down defenses.
On the other hand, Alabama has the SEC’s top rushing attack (270.8 yards per game) — also a top-10 unit in the nation (ninth).
With three players — Jalen Hurts (117), Damien Harris (98) and Bo Scarbrough (97) — already at or near 100 carries, it’s clear that the Tide doesn’t have a workhorse in the same way that Auburn does, but the entire stable is still effective.
4. Auburn has an 8-5 home record in the Iron Bowl
Auburn has done pretty well at home since its first home game of the series back in 1989.
The Tigers are 8-5 at Jordan-Hare Stadium since that year (61.5 percent). In comparison, Alabama is only 4-5 in the series in Tuscaloosa (44.4 percent) in the years since the rivalry shifted from Birmingham to a true home-and-home series.
As impressive as those eight Auburn victories were, none exceeded a 10-point margin. In fact, the average margin of victory during those eight wins has been 6.4 points.
That might not seem like a big deal, but Alabama’s four wins at home came by an average of 28.5 points per contest.
5. Alabama is 7-3 in the Iron Bowl under Saban
As good as Auburn has been at home in the rivalry, Alabama has even better under Nick Saban (70 percent).
To add to that, the Tide has outscored the Tigers 332-183 during that 10-year span — over a two-score per game difference (14.9).
There is good news for Auburn, however. Two of Alabama’s three Iron Bowl losses under Saban have been in Jordan-Hare Stadium.