Iron Bowl: 3 key matchups Alabama can exploit against Auburn
The 84th Iron Bowl is coming up Saturday, perhaps you’ve heard. And while Alabama is playing for its postseason lives at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings, Auburn is simply playing out the string and hoping for a warm-weather bowl destination.
No matter, though, as the 15th-ranked Tigers will surely be at top form come 3:30 p.m. ET at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers boast a stout defense and a serviceable offense that will only get better as quarterback Bo Nix continues to mature and evolve.
Every year, the Iron Bowl proves itself to be a throw-out-the-record-book game — meaning it really doesn’t much matter what the Tide and Tigers have accomplished or fallen short on prior to the rivalry game. Because both programs know that the 60 minutes spent facing off with their biggest opponents will be remembered forever.
There are plenty of ways Alabama can win Saturday, just as there are plenty of ways Auburn can emerge victorious. For the purposes here, we will explore 3 ways the Crimson Tide can exploit matchups against the Tigers to come away with 364 days of bragging rights and … maybe, just maybe … another shot at the national-title picture.
3. Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs against Auburn’s secondary
Alabama’s Torrid Trio (or, if you want to add Jaylen Waddle, Fantastic Four?) has torched secondaries all season — as Jeudy, Smith and Ruggs have combined for 2,673 receiving yards and 28 TDs.
Before all 3 play roshambo in the 1st round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Jeudy, Smith and Ruggs get to face an Auburn secondary that is actually a respectable 28th in the nation in passing yards allowed with 196.9 per game.
Should Mac Jones be afforded clean pockets to throw Saturday, it could be a strong effort for the Torrid Trio. Alabama heavily relied on the pass with superstar Tua Tagovailoa. And while running back Najee Harris has evolved into a strong RB1 to make the Tide more of a 50-50 team fans are used to, the talent that Jeudy, Smith and Ruggs bring to the table cannot be denied.
And it won’t be.
2. The kicking game. No, we aren’t kidding …
No, it isn’t already April 1. And no, I didn’t fall and hit my head. While Alabama might be the goal-post-hittingest team in college football history this season, Auburn is actually worse than the Tide.
That’s because hitting the goal posts on field-goal attempts means you’re actually really close to making it. Which is something Auburn’s Anders Carlson is forgetting how to do at an epic pace.
While Carlson has made 70 percent of his field goals this season, he has been anything but accurate recently. Carlson has made just 37.5 percent of his field goal attempts in the Tigers’ past 3 games — including missing 1 against Samford last week.
Not that Alabama has been much better, but at least Joseph Bulovas has been steadier recently. Kicking the ball through the goal posts has been an annual struggle for Alabama, to the point that you can almost hear Crimson Tide fans hold their breath when it is time to kick.
But there is a certain glee in seeing Auburn — which has been so much better in the kicking department year after year — struggle with something seemingly so natural to the Tigers.
Carlson helped Auburn set the NCAA point-after kick record earlier this year, but what kind of sweet karma would it be to see him shank a FG in a pressure situation against the Tide?
1. Nick Saban vs. Gus Malzahn
This appears to many if not most of the fine folks who have read this far to be a Georgia Tech vs. Cumberland-style mismatch. Nick Saban has 6 national championships under his thinning pate. Arthur Gustavo Malzahn III has precisely 1 state title — the Arkansas Class 5A high school state crown in 2005 with Springdale High School.
In other words, at first blush one could argue rather successfully that Saban has forgotten more football than Malzahn has ever known.
But back here in reality, it isn’t actually that simple.
Malzahn has survived and some could actually say thrived on The Plains because — for all his sugar-huddle ways — his hurry-up offense has been actually, genuinely successful. The Tigers are no joke, and even though the passing part of the deal has been uneven in parts, Auburn presents a real, live challenge to the Tide.
But again, the guy on the other sideline isn’t just an Aflac spokesmodel. Saban could write a dozen books about defensive football to offset the book Malzahn wrote about his. Arguably the finest defensive mind in college football history, Saban is almost never fooled — and his Crimson Tide adjusts on a second-by-second basis.
While not 222-0, this is a matchup that favors Alabama from coin toss to postgame CBS interview.