Did Georgia's win over Auburn kill the Iron Bowl?
Georgia’s win over Auburn last week killed the Tigers’ SEC championship and national title hopes, but contrary to some opinions, it didn’t completely kill the Iron Bowl.
As a matter of fact, there are plenty of reasons the Week 13 showdown remains must-see TV.
Here are our top five:
1. What can Jalen Hurts do for an encore?
Alabama’s freshman QB passed for career highs of 347 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 100 yards in fewer than three quarters in Alabama’s 51-3 victory over Mississippi State last week. Hurts became the first Crimson Tide player to throw for 300 yards and run for 100 in the same game, which he did against a Bulldogs team that upset Texas A&M the previous week.
Auburn has had mixed success against dual-threat quarterbacks this season, losing to Clemson and Texas A&M while beating Mississippi State and Ole Miss. With all due respect to Deshaun Watson, a Heisman finalist last year, at the moment Hurts is the best QB Auburn will see this season.
And even though defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and the Tigers have done a decent job this season, Hurts and the rest of the Bama offense will be their ultimate test.
2. Auburn still has plenty to play for
Despite having its six-game winning streak snapped with last week’s 13-7 loss at Georgia, anything positive that Auburn does from here on out will be gravy. Not only have the Tigers matched their victory total from last season (they’ll exceed it Saturday against Alabama A&M), they’ve looked much better while doing so, including rushing for 282.50 yards a game to lead the SEC.
It’s little consolation for AU fans that Alabama will still be very much alive for a College Football Playoff Spot even if the Tigers win. But look it at it this way, if Auburn pulls off the upset in Tuscaloosa, not only will it have in-state bragging rights for a year, it might end up being the only team to beat the Crimson Tide this season.
And with Bama currently on a 22-game winning streak (that, too, will grow Saturday), that kind of statement will carry a lot of weight.
3. It’s a matchup of strength vs. strength
Auburn’s ground attack, which is seventh in the FBS, will go up against the top rushing defense in the country. Alabama is allowing just 68.8 rushing yards per game, nearly 18 yards better per contest than San Diego State, the No. 2 team in the FBS in that category.
Going into the Iron Bowl, two factors definitely favor the Crimson Tide. Auburn QB Sean White, who had a horrible game last week, is still dealing with an injured throwing shoulder. His status is unknown for the Week 12 game against Alabama A&M.
On top of that, Kamryn Pettway – the SEC’s leading rusher – didn’t play against Georgia, and is recovering from a pulled leg muscle he suffered two weeks ago against Vanderbilt.
Gus Malzahn said Tuesday that Pettway won’t play Saturday. Instead, he’ll rest up and try to recover and be ready for the Iron Bowl.
In Pettway’s place last week, Kerryon Johnson did a nice job with 22 carries for 99 yards and Auburn’s only touchdown.
But to expect him to deliver that kind of performance against Bama is both unfair and unrealistic.
4. It’s Uncle Verne’s final Iron Bowl
Regardless of how you feel about Verne Lundquist, there’s no denying his place in SEC history. Lundquist, in his 53rd year as a broadcaster, is stepping down after the season following 17 years as CBS Sports’ play-by-play man for SEC football.
Brad Nessler is quality replacement for Lundquist, and CBS could’ve have done worse. And even though Uncle Verne isn’t necessarily every viewer’s cup of tea, his call of the Kick-Six in 2013 wasn’t too shabby.
5. Do we really need to sell this game?
The Big Ten can have Ohio State-Michigan. For our money, Auburn-Alabama is still the best rivalry in college football, regardless of what Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh happen to feel about it.
Games between Nick Saban – the sport’s most brilliant defensive mind – and Gus Malzahn and Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee are always entertaining, and for the most part competitive, which definitely describes two of the past three Iron Bowls. It will also be interesting to see if Steele can foil Lane Kiffin, who has become the best offensive coordinator in the game.
Coincidentally, the Iron Bowl and the annual Ohio State-Michigan matchup will both take place a week from Saturday. The Big Ten battle will start at noon, so Auburn-Alabama will take center stage whenever it kicks off.
Get your popcorn ready. It will be totally worth your time.