Hugh Freeze is still looking for that signature victory in his 1st year as head coach at Auburn.

It nearly happened against Ole Miss, his former employer, but the Tigers came up just short in a 28-21 loss. They just weren’t quite ready yet.

But that was a month ago and Auburn hadn’t lost since — until Saturday. A 4-game winning streak highlighted by 3 SEC victories, including 2 on the road, had lifted the Tigers out of the doldrums of a 3-game skid. But that all went down the drain in an uninspired and uninterested 31-10 loss to C-USA foe New Mexico State at Jordan-Hare.

Perhaps the Tigers were looking ahead to the Iron Bowl?

Already bowl-eligible once again at 6-5 (3-4 in SEC), Auburn appeared to have become a formidable foe, taking care of the bottom feeders in the conference. It appeared ready to challenge SEC West top-seeded Alabama in the Iron Bowl next Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT) at Jordan-Hare Stadium … until Saturday, a game that raised a lot of questions from the top of the program to the bottom.

Alabama (10-1), on the other hand, is on a 9-game win streak since falling at home to Texas. The No. 8 Tide has everything to play for, still in the hunt for a Playoff spot with a date against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game looming. But, as the old saying goes, “That’s why they play the games.” Remember, New Mexico State was a 25-point underdog.

Alabama is a double-digit favorite and certainly should win. If Auburn is to pull off the shocker, these 3 things must happen.

1. Keep Jalen Milroe in the pocket

The Tigers must keep the Alabama QB from beating them with his feet. One way to do that is to keep him in the pocket. Against LSU on Nov. 4, Milroe was able to escape the pocket and pick up big yardage down the field.

The LSU edge rushers continually overran the play and were blocked beyond the point of attack. That allowed Milroe to step up into the pocket and either make the throw or take off in Jayden Daniels-like fashion to make chunk-yardage plays.

Against LSU, Milroe rushed for a career-high 155 yards. If Auburn is to contain Milroe, it must keep him in the pocket, not overrun the play, and make him win with his arm.

The Alabama QB has proven he is capable of doing that. Milroe threw for 200-plus yards in 7 of his first 9 games this season, and in the past 3 SEC games, he has completed 66.7 percent of his passes (44-for-66) with 5 TDs and just 2 interceptions.

You have to pick your poison. And Auburn’s best shot appears to be keeping Milroe from becoming that dual-threat quarterback.

2. Auburn QB must be elusive

On the flip side, Payton Thorne must use his legs to extend plays and keep the Alabama defense off balance.

Historically, teams with mobile quarterbacks are the ones that have given Alabama trouble. And Thorne has displayed an ability to do just that. He rushed for 123 yards against Samford, had a 92-yard rushing effort against No. 1 Georgia and ran for 88 yards against Arkansas.

Thorne’s running ability has somewhat offset the conference’s worst passing game, although it has gotten better lately. In the past 3 conference games, Thorne has thrown for 587 yards and 8 TDs with only 2 interceptions, completing 67.1 percent (49-for-73) of his passes.

Thorne must be a true dual-threat quarterback if Auburn is to have any chance of pulling off the upset.

3. Have something left in the tank

Alabama will wear you down with its depth and conditioning. Auburn must have something left late in the game. The Tigers can’t compete with Alabama’s depth, so conditioning is a key. Holding some sort of lead heading into the latter stages of the game wouldn’t hurt, either.

That’s because through the first 10 games of the season, only twice (Texas and Arkansas) has Alabama been outscored in the 2nd half. During that 10-game span, Alabama has a combined scoring advantage of 172-62.

Alabama has trailed or been tied in 6 games this season, so jumping to an early lead is a possibility for Auburn. But holding onto any advantage it might gain will be the key if Auburn is to shock the Tide.