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Jumbo Package: Iron Bowl For All the Marbles

Gus is happy to hear this, as he lost his years ago.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday, everyone. Don’t forget that the exciting men’s basketball team has a game on Facebook (:eyeroll:) later this afternoon against BYU. Of course, all of the coverage is Iron Bowl related this morning. Your previews:

Marq Burnett: Alabama 27, Auburn 16

This game comes down to one thing: Can Alabama’s offensive line hold up against Auburn’s defensive front?

If Alabama’s offensive line is able to create holes for the running backs and give Jalen Hurts time to throw, it could be a long day for Auburn’s defense.

Alabama’s defense will be fine despite the injuries. Alabama needs its offensive line to play its best game of the season. If that happens, Alabama should escape Jordan-Hare Stadium with a victory.

The 21 survey participants independently bucked the trends from previous Iron Bowl projections. Even before the 2013 Kick Six classic, 17 of 18 in-state sports writers polled by the AP picked Alabama.

This time, it's almost a dead heat.

Alabama got 11 votes. Auburn had 10.

The average projected final score: Alabama 25, Auburn 24.

Several factors in this matchup suggest Auburn should be the pick. Alabama’s closest games in SEC play took place on the road, the Tigers have momentum since beating Georgia, and Saban’s team is perhaps more vulnerable than in previous years. This game could come down to two simple factors: Rush defense and quarterback play. Which team is able to stop the run and which offense is able to keep the quarterback out of obvious passing downs is probably going to win. Hurts came through in the clutch against Mississippi State, and the offense likely needs a couple of big plays from him once again this Saturday. The guess here is Hurts and Ridley connect on a key play in the fourth quarter to clinch the SEC West for Alabama.

Prediction: Alabama 27, Auburn 24

When No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Auburn tee it up Saturday afternoon on The Plains, the Iron Bowl will decide the winner of the SEC West for just the second time in the rivalry's history.

At the end of the last, Auburn defensive back/punt returner Chris Davis ran 109 yards after fielding a missed field goal into the Alabama end zone and into college football immortality.

Auburn will win the battle in the trenches, slow down the vaunted Crimson Tide rushing attack and force quarterback Jalen Hurts to win with his arm. Whether he can or not depends on how much pressure Auburn's offense puts on the Tide with its own work, and I think it will be too much pressure. Auburn's offense will stress Alabama's thin front seven with eye candy east-west and running back Kerryon Johnson will have enough success for quarterback Jarrett Stidham to work off play-action.

Auburn players will enter the stadium this weekend with some added motivation after Alabama has reeled off three straight wins in the intrastate rivalry.

"Yeah, it motivates us," senior safety Tray Matthews said. "We lost to Georgia the same amount of times, so we've just got to come out here on fire."

Of course, Auburn snapped that three-game losing streak to Georgia in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry earlier this month, unseating the previously unbeaten Bulldogs, 40-17, two weeks ago.

Perhaps the most amazing feat in the most recent years of Nick Saban’s Alabama dynasty is the Crimson Tide’s success away from home.

The last time Alabama lost a true road game was Oct. 4, 2014 — a 23-17 setback against Ole Miss. Since then, the Tide has won 14 straight times in opponents’ venues.

With Jalen Hurts at quarterback, the Tide is uniquely well-suited to perform in intimidating environments. Hurts has shown his poise, helping Alabama prevail in tight games at LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State during his two seasons in charge of the offense.

Don’t expect Alabama to be rattled when it heads to Jordan-Hare this Saturday.

Auburn is last in the SEC in punting and 13th in kickoff coverage, which could significantly help the Crimson Tide in terms of field position. However, Alabama hasn’t been good on punt returns or kickoff returns.

“We haven’t gotten the kind of production out of those two teams that we’d like,” Nick Saban said. “We continue to work on it and focus because that can be a real weapon for you if you win in special teams.”

Alabama is second in kickoff coverage and boasts senior punter JK Scott, who is up for the Ray Guy Award again. Auburn has senior kicker Daniel Carlson, a finalist for the Lou Groza Award.

With the point spread this close, and Auburn playing at home, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the pundits are rather divided on this one, particularly since Alabama is involved and many of them would love to have a new story to write. Auburn is tough, without question. Folks saw Mississippi State have some moderate success running the ball against the Tide after Kerryon Johnson ran all over Georgia and predictably overreacted. That isn’t completely unreasonable, though it should be noted that the Tide linebackers did find their sea legs in that game to hold MSU to 166 yards and 10 points over the last 40 minutes, after surrendering 164 and 14 in the first third of the game.

Needless to say, there is more than one data point to a season. To quote the incomparable Bill Connelly, “success leads to more success for Auburn, and failure leads to more failure.”

Looking at Auburn’s two best wins, both followed a similar script. Against Texas A&M, Auburn led by only a point at the tail end of the first half. The Aggies were punting the ball with 20 seconds left, content to go into the locker room. Auburn blocked the punt, ran it back for a touchdown, and converted the opening possession of the second half for a touchdown to get some separation.

Against Georgia, Auburn led 9-7 late in the first half. UGA forced a punt, only to be flagged for leaping over the shield. The Tigers punched it in from there, the Dawgs missed a field goal before the half, then muffed the punt they forced on the opening possession of the third quarter. Auburn went up 23-7 and rode the wave from there.

Now, let’s take a look at the LSU loss. Auburn started fast and held a 20 point lead. Russell Gage busted a jet sweep for 70 yards, and LSU went on a 27-3 run to close it out. Remember what Gus said after knocking off LSU last season?

“I think it will give us some momentum moving forward.”

When asked about LSU before their game this season?

“They had a big win last week vs. Florida on the road, a close game that they found a way to win, so I know that they are going to have a lot of momentum.”

This is how Gus thinks, folks. Connelly is spot on because the entire program is built on emotion. Rather than tirelessly work toward creating a perfect machine with perfect parts the way that Saban does, Gus focuses on ways to create havoc with schemes and gain an emotional edge.

So, what are the keys to this one? Obviously, Alabama must slow the Auburn run game. Everyone is talking about that matchup, and it will be important. Of course, Auburn must slow Alabama’s as well. Both teams have the requisite talent up front to get this done. On passing downs, Alabama has a talent advantage on both sides outside and the more mobile quarterback, but (assuming that Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis are still sidelined, anyway) Auburn has the superior pass rush. Everything seems pretty even here.

If you recall, Alabama vs. LSU turned out to be pretty even as well. The Bayou Bengals actually outgained the Tide, ever so slightly. As we mentioned in postgame analysis, J.K. Scott was the difference in the game, as he outkicked his counterpart by 100 yards on the same number of attempts, and landed seven of eight inside the 20. On the season, Scott is averaging a net of over 40 yards and has remarkably pinned the opponent on 55% of his tries. Meanwhile, Auburn freshman Aidan Marshall has netted 33.1 and managed to land only 4 of 27 inside the 20.

The Tide have not turned the ball over this season. If that continues, the field position battle will be the difference in a rather ugly slugfest. Alabama will take advantage of better field position and hit a few big plays in the pass game, while Andy Pappanastos goes 5/6 on his field goal attempts.

Let’s call it Alabama 29, Auburn 16.

Of course, that is just my prediction. Vote and give us yours in the comments.

Former fan favorite Will Lowery will be taking over the TideSports Twitter during the game:

Shank had quite a bit of fun with this earlier in the year.

Did you see big DT do a little dance yesterday?

Love it. That’s the first of what will hopefully be many QB sacks in a long career.

That’s about it for today. Have a great Black Friday with football, basketball and leftovers.

Roll Tide.


What will be the result of the Iron Bowl?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Crazy Kristi goes house shopping in Fayetteville, Tide roll by 10+
    (308 votes)
  • 32%
    Tough test but Tide cover, win by 4-9
    (185 votes)
  • 8%
    Another instant classic, Auburn covers but Tide win by a field goal or less
    (46 votes)
  • 5%
    Auburn wi... Auburn pulls the up... You know. Vote here if the devil has a hold of you.
    (33 votes)
572 votes total Vote Now