No. 5 Alabama at No. 16 Auburn
When: 2:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn
Records: Alabama 10-1, 6-1 SEC; Auburn 8-3, 4-3 SEC
Radio: 95.3 FM, 102.9 FM
By Edwin Stanton
Alabama has the edge with playmakers at receiver (DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy) and Auburn has big-play guys at running back (JaTarvious Whitlow, D.J. Williams). Both teams are solid on the offensive line.
The Auburn defensive line is arguably the best in the country with Derrick Brown, an Outland Trophy semifinalist, and Marlon Davidson leading the way. Alabama is younger up front this week due to starters being injured.
Alabama (38.7 average) lags behind Auburn (43.6 average) in punting, but the Crimson Tide has blocked two punts; Alabama is 68 percent on field goals and Auburn is 65; Jaylen Waddle is a one-man wrecking crew in punt returns (3 TDs, 24.67 average).
Alabama’s Nick Saban (8-4) has had the most trouble against Auburn than any other opponent in his tenure in Tuscaloosa. Gus Malzahn, who has one win against Saban, has had a rough go this season against top-10 teams.
With a possible spot in the College Football Playoff at stake, Alabama has all the incentive in the world to win this game. Auburn has motivation as well — preventing its biggest rival from getting that playoff spot.
Auburn 24, Alabama 17
The home team always gets the benefit of the doubt in the Iron Bow and Auburn holds a 9-5 mark at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The first Iron Bowl in Auburn was 30 years ago, which Auburn won 30-20, handing No. 2 Alabama its first loss. The time could be right for another big Tiger win down on The Plains.
Bama will be extra motivated to win and win by a lot this weekend in an effort to pad their College Football Playoff resume. This will be a tough test for both Bama’s Mac Jones and Auburn’s Bo Nix. Whichever quarterback can control the game and not turn the ball over will likely determine the winner.
I spent more time deliberating this pick than I did the LSU one. I strongly considered picking Auburn. Najee Harris as a receiving weapon should do something to neutralize the impact of Auburn’s defensive line, and that may be enough to tip the game in Alabama’s favor.
It’s not impossible for Alabama to go to Auburn and win a tough, hard-fought game with plenty of meaning for the Crimson Tide. Trying to do it with a backup quarterback adds a degree of difficulty but that’s how heroes (like Roy Upchurch) are made.
While a trip to Atlanta to play for a SEC title is not on the line, everything else is at stake for the Crimson Tide. An overall superb performance in the Iron Bowl is needed and more times than not, Nick Saban’s teams deliver in these kind of moments.
I think Alabama’s offensive playmakers will do just enough to get the win in this one. I expect Auburn’s defensive front to make life difficult for Mac Jones and I think Gus Malzahn will have some tricks up his sleeve to exploit Alabama’s defense, but the Crimson Tide, fighting for its playoff life, will come out on top.
I’m expecting an electric atmosphere in Auburn on Saturday and big days from both Mac Jones and Bo Nix. Jones wins the dual in a close game to keep Alabama’s playoff hopes alive.
While many have focused on Mac Jones against that ferocious Auburn defensive line, an equally intriguing subplot is the Gus Malzahn offense vs. the Pete Golding defense. In the end, Jones doesn’t have to be an Iron Bowl hero. He just needs to get the ball to his playmakers as soon as possible and let them do the rest.
In just his third career start at quarterback, Mac Jones will be facing his biggest test against the Auburn defense. A lot will depend on the protection he gets from his offensive line against the pressure from Derrick Brown and Co. I think Alabama has the extra motivation and talent to come out of Auburn with a victory.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Position: Wide receiver
Key Stat: 60 catches for 1,120 yards and 13 touchdowns this season
Buzz: Smith was snubbed from the finalist list for the Biletnikoff Award and will be looking to prove his doubters wrong today. Smith leads the Crimson Tide in receiving yards and touchdown catches and has overshadowed his talented teammates in the receiving corps.
Position: Defensive back
Key Stat: 40 total tackles this season
Buzz: The senior was recognized last Saturday against Western Carolina and will hope to close out his Alabama career with a win in the Iron Bowl.
Position: Defensive line
Key Stat: Upped his tackle total to 22 this year. 18 tackles last season
Buzz: Mathis has been a mainstay in the defensive line rotation this year and returned to practice this week from an injury that kept him out against Western Carolina. Mathis’ newly found health will add much needed depth up front defensive for the Crimson Tide.
Position: Running back
Key Stat: 131 rushing attempts this year is more than 45 more rushes than anyone else for the Tigers
Buzz: Whitlow has carried the load in the Tigers backfield all season and will be asked to do the same task on Saturday. with 625 yards and nine touchdowns are also the most for Auburn.
Position: Running back
Key Stat: 52 receptions, 735 yards and eight touchdowns leads all Tigers in those categories.
Buzz: The Tuscaloosa native has been Bo Nix’s most reliable target all season and is a safety blanket for the freshman quarterback. His run-after-catch abilities poise a threat to the Alabama secondary.
Position: Defensive back
Key Stat: 69 tackles on the season leads the Auburn defense
Buzz: Dinson has had a successful close to his Auburn career so far and has added two interceptions this year to match his total from last year. Dinson will be tasked with stopping the talented Alabama receivers, but the Miami, Fla., native will not back down.