5 bold predictions: Alabama vs. Auburn
So here we are: No. 13 Auburn at No. 1 Alabama. It’s the 81st edition of the Iron Bowl, the most contentious rivalry in the SEC and all of college football.
For the Tigers, it’s a chance to hand the nation’s No. 1 team its first loss of the season while keeping themselves in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl. For the Crimson Tide, it’s an opportunity to run their winning streak to 24 and move closer to a third consecutive berth in the College Football Playoff.
What should we expect? Settle in, let us put on the prognostication hat and make a few guesses about the biggest battle of the week.
1. Martin, not Pettway, will be Auburn’s most effective Kam: Kam Martin rushed 21 times for 176 yards and two touchdowns last week, all career highs. Yes, he compiled those numbers against Alabama A&M, but entering the Iron Bowl, he’s Auburn’s healthiest running back.
Pettway hasn’t played since suffering a leg injury three weeks ago. Gus Malzahn has said that he will play against Alabama, but how effective he will be remains to be seen.
Kerryon Johnson is probably not 100 percent after suffering an ankle injury against Mississippi State on Oct. 8. Stanton Truitt, who missed last week’s game, is still recovering from his own ankle injury, which he suffered against Georgia on Nov. 12.
2. Auburn’s defensive line will outplay Alabama’s: Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne and Dalvin Tomlinson have all played very well along Alabama’s D-line. But their counterparts – Montravius Adams, Marlon Davidson, Dontavius Russell, Maurice Swain and Derrick Brown have had a terrific season in their own right.
Not to jinx anything, but Lawson has played every game in a season for the first time since 2013. Adams has performed at an All-SEC level while adding a couple of blocked kicks and an interception as well.
With Korren Kirven and Cam Robinson suffering shoulder injuries in last week’s win over Chattanooga, Alabama’s offensive line is a bit banged up. Look for Auburn’s defensive linemen to try to exploit that.
3. Special teams will play a big part in the game’s outcome: With all due respect to Ole Miss’ Gary Wunderlich, Auburn’s Daniel Carlson is the best kicker in the SEC. Because Alabama’s defense, which is allowing 11.4 points per game — second in the FBS — Carlson could become a major factor, especially if Auburn’s offense stalls in the red zone.
Meanwhile, Alabama’s J.K. Scott is the best punter in the conference. Because he’s averaging a league-leading 48.5 yards per punt, Alabama usually wins the field-position battle, and Saturday’s game could feature more of the same.
Because the Kick Six occurred only three years ago, Saban will be vigilant about not letting a similar play happen again. Meanwhile, if Auburn has to punt more than it usually does, don’t be surprised if Gus Malzahn tries a trick play or two with Kevin Phillips.
The punter successfully executed a run and a pass on separate fourth-down plays last season. Alabama would be wise to expect something out of the ordinary.
4. Auburn will yield its first rushing touchdown in nine games: Two weeks ago, the Tigers were able to keep Nick Chubb and Sony Michel from reaching pay dirt. They won’t be as lucky against the Crimson Tide.
Bama’s Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs have combined for 10 rushing touchdowns this season. But they won’t be Auburn’s biggest concern.
Jalen Hurts, who has 11 rushing TDs, fits that description. The true freshman has 30 total touchdowns, and it will be tough for Tigers to keep him out of the end zone.
5. Auburn will fall short but cover the spread: Alabama, which has already won the SEC West, is favored by 17 points. Even with a loss to Auburn, Saban’s squad could still find itself back in the College Football Playoff with a convincing victory over Florida in the SEC Championship Game.
The line seems pretty high for a bitter rivalry game. Tigers’ ground attack and defense will keep them in the game, which Alabama will win by no more than two touchdowns.