18 Consecutive victories for Alabama over Auburn when the Crimson Tide enters the Iron Bowl with a record at least three games better than the Tigers' mark, which is the case this season. Since the rivalry resumed in 1948, only one Auburn team has won the Iron Bowl with a record at least three games worse than the Tide's mark. In 1949, the 1-4-3 Tigers upended 6-2-1 Alabama 14-13 in a game decided by a missed extra-point attempt.
Auburn is so bad that I've yet to read or hear the obligatory "you can throw the record books out the window when these two teams get together" reference this week. There's no doubt AU fans would like to throw something and/or someone out the window. But fitting an entire coaching staff through such a narrow opening might be asking a little much. Clearly, all signs point to an easy win for the Crimson Tide on Saturday. And seeing as how the Tigers have been outscored 63-0 in the first quarter of their last five SEC games, UA would seem to be a good bet to take Auburn out early. That said, this isn’t the quick starting Alabama we saw earlier in the season. In games with LSU and Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide was outscored 23-0 in the opening quarter. The UA defense failed to produce a first quarter three-and-out in either game, while the offense went three-and-out on four of its six first quarter drives.
One of the common themes on the Plains this week has been ‘you can throw the records out’ in the Iron Bowl. Ignoring the records may be the only way an objective observer would believe Auburn and Alabama are evenly matched this season. "For me it’s the biggest game of the year," Auburn middle linebacker Jake Holland said. "Records don’t mean anything. It’s called the Iron Bowl for a reason — it’s like a bowl game. It’s definitely the most important game of the season for me."
"This is a special day for the 21 seniors we have on the team coming up on Saturday," Saban said. "I think there are nine scholarship guys and 12 walk-ons. A lot of the guys that were originally in this class are no longer here, because we've had quite a few draft picks and that type of thing. "This class has done a fantastic job of representing the University of Alabama and representing our program. They've contributed to a large degree the leadership and success that we've had in this organization, and I think it's great to recognize them in our stadium for the last home game and have the community and everybody sort of thank them for the great job they've done in representing the University of Alabama."
Michael Williams moved into Alabama’s starting lineup as a freshman late in the 2009 season because of his blocking. That’s kept him in the lineup, too, but his pass-catching has turned into a nice bonus for the Crimson Tide. He made 16 receptions last year and already has 18 this year, along with three touchdowns. "He has really good hands," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "He’s athletic. He was a very good high school basketball player. He’s made some good catches this year and hopefully we’ll be able to continue doing that." Williams said he simply waited for his chance. "It’s really just biding my time all this time," he said. "This year was my opportunity to be that guy. I think I stepped in and did everything to the best of my ability. But still got a long way to go, so it all depends. But it’s been good so far."
Square is part of a small senior class that, even with fifth-year and fourth-year seniors combined, has shrunk to less than 10 scholarship players. Virtually all of them, however, have made major contributions. Square has been a three-year fixture on the Alabama defensive line since missing most of the 2009 national title season while recovering from an injured knee. Now, he is looking at the end of his college career. "I just go home everyday to my wife and we just talk about it. Just the amount of time that I've been here and how great these people have been to me around here. Just trying to leave on a good note," Square said. "Unfortunately, I can't stop time, because if I could, I would. But I've got to do what I've got to do and move on to the next part of my life."
Because the bulk of offenses it’s seen has been spread-based, the Crimson Tide has utilized even more of its nickel and dime formations than it has during previous years under Saban. That’s meant less and less playing time for Johnson, Alabama’s top returning tackler from 2011 who entered his senior year as an unanimous All-SEC first-teamer. Johnson, who mans the middle of the field with sophomore Trey DePriest in Alabama’s base, 3-4 defense, has made the most of his opportunities and is currently tied for second on the team with 50 tackles. He’s earned even more respect from Saban with his team-first attitude throughout the kind of season that might disenchant those who don’t appreciate the system as much as Johnson. "He's never ever showed a negative attitude or complained in any way, shape or form about his circumstance," Saban said. "He's always been the consummate team guy. We appreciate it, and I think a lot of players appreciate it."
"We have a lot of motivating factors that may be more important," said center Barrett Jones, a fifth-year senior. "First and foremost, our motivating factor right now is to win the SEC. That’s a big accomplishment, to win the best conference in America and we have a great chance to do that … and hopefully we’ll have a chance to play for something more than that."
"I've been saying ever since this summer that I don't think it's any different," senior tight end Michael Williams said when asked what has changed this season offensively. "Other than terminology of different words and a couple of different formations, it's all the same. "I guess with me I've actually been playing some H or whatever, and I didn't do that last year so I guess that's different for me. But it's not too much different from last year or any time before that." Williams is not surprised. "Coach Saban has a system," he said. "And you either buy in or you don't. So I guess everybody buys in and the system's been working pretty well for us the last couple years. So I don't think too many people will argue with it."
"It’s Thanksgiving week, so players should have the opportunity to, if they can, spend a little time with their family and give thanks for all the things that we have," Saban said. The Tide finds itself back in the national title picture, once thought impossible after a Nov. 10 loss to Texas A&M. "We kind of lost our place and lost the way that we played and we lost the reason why we played," said Alabama junior linebacker C.J. Mosley. "From that loss, it made us recognize what we need to do to get back on top, and luckily we got our second chance. We have to make sure we do the right thing for it."
Saban said he doesn’t want to risk McCarron that way when he never has shown a great ability to run. McCarron responded, "I’m smart. I know when I got to get down and when I have an opportunity to get some extra yards. ... I know when to get out and when to stay up." His willingness to run paid off against LSU three weeks ago when he rushed for a 9-yard touchdown just before halftime. As the receivers ran their routes, the defense accounted for them but not for McCarron. "Most of the teams do that against quarterbacks they don’t think are going to beat them running the football," he said. "Sometimes it opens up, and you just have to take what they give you."
"You look at every NFL team that's a successful NFL team, and they have a good quarterback," Saban said. "It's probably the difference in most teams. "Having stability at that position is probably the critical factor in having any kind of consistency of performance on offense. We've been fortunate around here to have some guys that have played extremely well for us, been very consistent performers, been really good team guys and been leaders and done a really good job for us."
"The last couple of weeks, we've played a couple of fast-paced teams," he said. "I think we've just had one fumble recovery. But it's still a matter of doing our job and trying to get off the field in three downs and get the ball back for the offense." Beyond three-and-outs, Alabama has other goals. "We want to get three turnovers a game," Mosley said, "but you can't get it every game. We have to keep working in practice, ripping the ball out, and hopefully when we get a chance, we'll make that play in the game."
"It's a very unique game, so I think that there's an extra focus and an extra intent in terms of just being ready to prepare. Our team looks at this game differently," said Auburn head coach Gene Chizik. "We don't take that lightly. We feel a great sense of responsibility because of so many people that will be affected by this game around the state come Sunday morning. "
This year’s game involves an Alabama team that must win to clinch the SEC West Division title and keep alive its chance for its third national title in four years. This year’s game involves an Alabama team that has reached this game with a top-2 ranking in four of six seasons under Saban, playing an Auburn team that’s reached this game unranked in three out of Chizik’s four years. Oh, and just another note from history: since the series resumed after a 40-year hiatus in 1948, only two coaches have won their final Iron Bowl — Auburn’s Terry Bowden in 1997 and Alabama’s Gene Stallings in 1996.
Sophomore Trevor Releford leads the Crimson Tide with 17.8 points and 2.0 steals per contest, after making his first start of the season against Villanova in the championship game of the 2K Classic. Releford accounted for a career-best 25 points. Sophomore guards Trevor Lacey (16.3 ppg) and Rodney Cooper (15.5 ppg), also average in double figures. "Trevor (Releford) is our most experienced player and it is good to see him stepping up to take ownership in the program," Grant said. "The same thing is true for (Cooper and Lacey). I think there is a big difference when players become sophomores. Things aren't new to them any more."