Alabama: 5 takeaways that will affect the Iron Bowl date with Auburn
Alabama’s victory Saturday means next week’s Iron Bowl won’t decide who wins the SEC West Division as many had hoped. However, the Alabama-Auburn game still carries bragging rights and serious postseason implications for both teams.
The Iron Bowl is obviously huge for the Crimson Tide. Bama, which is No. 2 in the nation, is trying to make the Playoff. The committee sent out a very loud message last week when they placed Alabama atop all other 1-loss teams in the nation. If Alabama wins out, they’re in the Playoff. So far, they’ve done so. The latest win came when Alabama beat Arkansas on Saturday 42-35 to clinch the West. So where does Alabama stand if they can soundly beat Auburn this week? The Tide should be in pretty good shape.
If the Crimson Tide can beat the Tigers in grand fashion on Saturday, then the Tide can lose a close game to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and likely still get in the Playoff. One could argue whether that’s fair, but fair doesn’t matter, especially after Oregon lost Saturday. Alabama is a television draw and the committee has clearly indicated that they want Bama to play for a championship. However, there’s only so much the committee can do. If Bama loses to Auburn on Saturday, the Crimson Tide will need to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
The Tigers have plenty on the line Saturday, too. Auburn is 6-5 after losing to South Carolina. The Tigers will make a bowl game. However, a win against Alabama would vastly improve their bowl destination. It could be the difference in spending a week in Florida or a week in Nashville, so there’s plenty to play for.
Alabama will be a heavy favorite, partly because of how both teams played in Week 12. Here are 5 takeaways from Alabama’s win over Arkansas that should be considered when previewing the Iron Bowl:
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is getting more comfortable
I’m sure you’ve heard that Young had a pretty good game against Arkansas. In fact, it was record-setting. Young threw for a school-record 559 yards and 5 touchdowns while completing 31-of-40 passes. That’s called a good day at the office.
It was hard to knock Young when he began the season, especially after he looked so poised against Miami in a 44-13 season-opening win. In that game, the first-year starter looked comfortable against pressure as he continued to survey the field in order to complete a pass. Young was so good at keeping his eyes downfield that opponents weren’t concerned that he might run the ball. He also didn’t look comfortable when he did run the football. That has recently changed and was on display on Saturday whether he broke passing records on not.
Young has picked up some key yards on the ground in recent weeks. His 11-yard touchdown pass to Christian Leary in the third quarter against Arkansas is a sign that he is doing a better job at making key decisions on whether to run or throw in the heat of the moment. Young made a similar play in the third quarter when he scrambled and completed another significant gain. Yes, Young gave up a bad sack in which he forced Alabama to kick — and miss — a long field goal. However, the dangerous combination of Young’s passing and running is becoming something that Auburn will have to take into account. Young’s rushing threat wasn’t nearly as much of a concern as it was just a month ago.
Is Young a dangerous runner like former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. No. But he is as elusive as Jalen Hurts. Is Young perfect when he decides to run or try and keep the passing game alive? No, but he’s improved greatly. That development continued through Saturday and it makes Young much more difficult to defend.
Alabama has become a slow-starting team
Alabama was known for blowing teams out last season and destroying any hope that an opponent might have before the marching bands even took the field. That’s not been the case recently. Bama has scored just 24 combined points in the first quarter of their past 4 games.
Alabama only managed a field goal against Arkansas on Saturday in the first quarter. Bama scored 14 first-quarter points against a vastly overmatched New Mexico State team last week. Before that, Alabama didn’t score a point in the first quarter against LSU and trailed Tennessee 14-7 in the first quarter. Whether it’s Alabama’s mistakes or excellent play by their opposition, teams are staying close to striking distance for much of the game. Alabama once crushed any hope. Now, Bama’s slow starts inspire belief for the other team.
Alabama cannot play press coverage consistently
The Crimson Tide crowded Arkansas’ offense so that the Razorbacks couldn’t win the game simply by running the football. That game plan ultimately worked since Alabama won and limited Arkansas to just 110 yards rushing. However, the aggressive approach didn’t work all that well against the pass. Arkansas came into the game averaging 206 yards passing per game. That was 12th-best in the SEC. Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson blew by Arkansas’ average as he completed 22-of-30 passes for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Arkansas didn’t have any trouble throwing the ball against Alabama’s tight, press man coverage. Auburn has been a better passing team than Arkansas this season. That, however, is in complete flux after former starter Bo Nix went down with an injury last week and has since been replaced by TJ Finley, who had more than his fair share of struggles in a 21-17 loss at South Carolina on Saturday.
Alabama can stop the run — even against tough, physical teams
Leading a conference or the nation in rushing defense isn’t what it used to be. Teams are more likely to throw the football fast and often to light up the scoreboard. Time of possession has become the most useless of all statistics. However, Auburn would like to run the football with big offensive sets full of multiple tight ends. That would limit the times that Finley is asked to carry the team. However, running the football against Alabama is no easy feat.
Alabama came into the Arkansas game with the No. 2 rushing defense in the SEC. Arkansas averaged 234 rushing yards per game, which also was No. 2. The Crimson Tide won that battle. That forced the Razorbacks to the passing game, which turned out to be very fruitful. Auburn doesn’t have the passing game that should scare Alabama away from loading up the tackle box to stop the run, which Bama will likely do Saturday.
Alabama makes too many mistakes
If there’s anything that can keep Auburn within striking distance, it’s Alabama. The Crimson Tide couldn’t get out of its own way in order to extinguish Arkansas’ comeback hopes in the second half. Bama also made mistakes early that could have given its team an early, significant lead. Alabama fumbled, gave up a fake field goal that resulted in a touchdown, dropped passes and got beat repeatedly in pass protection, which led to far too much pressure on Young.
Alabama has been elite enough in the past to overcome mistakes, but that’s not the case this season. If they make the same amount of mistakes moving forward, Auburn will have a chance Saturday. And as for the SEC Championship Game, Alabama can’t play like they did against Arkansas and expect to beat Georgia.