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Jumbo Package: The heavyweight bout in front of Mac will determine Alabama’s fate

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Your latest Crimson Tide news and notes.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Alabama at Texas A&M Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Happy Friday, everyone. You’re here for Iron Bowl talk, so let’s get to it.

Previews:

Emotions run high early, and Auburn grabs an early lead after a Jones turnover. The Tigers can’t build on that, however, and Alabama eventually hits on the big pass plays. Harris is a major factor in the second half, and the Crimson Tide pull away. The Tigers hit a cosmetic touchdown late to keep this from being a full-fledged blowout.

Final score: Alabama 34, Auburn 23

As good as Tagovailoa is, it’s not like he wasn’t surrounded by a wealth of talent on the Alabama offense. Sure, Mac Jones might not be Tua, but he still has a bunch of future NFL wide receivers at his disposal. He’s also playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the country, one that is better equipped to deal with (not stop!) the Auburn defensive line than most other teams. Then there’s the simple fact that I trust Jones in this spot more than I do Bo Nix. We’ve seen plenty of Nix in games like this, and he just hasn’t been good. He was able to complete 60% of his passes against Georgia a couple of weeks ago but averaged only 4.9 yards per attempt. I don’t see Auburn winning this game by dinking and dunking down the field. They’re going to need big plays I’m not sure Nix can provide. Alabama 27, Auburn 17

*Alabama quarterback Mac Jones gets his first big test against Auburn on Saturday. Auburn has three pretty tight losses. Their offense struggles moving the ball agaisnt good defenses. Their defense has been very good, holding a great LSU offense to just 23 points on the road. Alabama will miss Tua Tagovailoa in this one. Taking Auburn here and the hook.

Alabama’s ability to slow down the Auburn run game should play a significant role in the game, as it has in the recent history of the rivalry. In Iron Bowls since 2000, Alabama is 7-2 when holding Auburn to 3 or fewer yards per carry, but 2-7 when allowing more than that.

“I feel like it’ll definitely be a physical challenge,” safety Jared Mayden said. “The Bo Nix kid, he’s not no little quarterback. He’s a big guy, so he’s going to run it strong. Their running backs are big, effective, they’re gonna run it downhill. On top of that, it’s a big game for them, it’s a big game for us, also.

“So you take that, add all that in, we should expect it to be a more physical game.”

Auburn’s punt coverage has generally improved throughout the season, though the Tigers have been susceptible to allowing some big returns. Oregon had an 81-yard punt return against Auburn in the season opener, while Tulane had a 36-yard return in Week 2 and Ole Miss had a 55-yard return earlier this month.

Of course, there have also been seven games this season in which Auburn has not yielded a single yard on punt returns and one other, against LSU, in which the Tigers allowed just 7 yards on two return attempts. Auburn will hope for more of that and less of the other three games when it comes time for the Iron Bowl this weekend.

Alabama’s defense, which will be as healthy as it has been in weeks, must contend with Nix, who is a bigger threat with his legs than his arm. His passing completion percentage against ranked defenses has been awful. But he’s going to have to put the ball in the air if the running game struggles. Against Georgia, that wasn’t a bad idea. He hit 30 of 50 passes for 245 yards.

If Jones can’t find a comfort zone, the Tide is going to lose. If Nix can’t amp up his passing, the Tigers lose.

Alabama 27, Auburn 17

This, a Jones vs. Nix showdown, just doesn’t have the same pop as some in the past decade. Though not necessarily a rivalry built on quarterback play, it has included a Heisman winner in Cam Newton and two runners up in AJ McCarron and Tagovailoa.

There’s no SEC title on the line and only a chance of a playoff for Alabama even in victory.

The shine is definitely off of this year’s Iron Bowl, with Auburn’s putrid offense and the injury to Tua. Still, this game means everything to the players on the field, and Auburn will be at home with its nasty defense. This is a game that’s really tough to get a read on, because it largely hinges on an unknown in Mac Jones. He has thrown the ball exceptionally well against weak competition, but this will be the first time that he has faced pressure in the pocket and, of course, a raucous road environment. There is a reason that the betting line has held steady at about a field goal: bettors don’t know what to think, either.

The nugget about Auburn’s punt return defense against Jaylen Waddle is interesting. It would be an obvious benefit to Alabama if Waddle could make some plays, but if they kick it short all day to keep it from him, that helps Jones with field position.

All that said, there is a reason that most experts are picking the Tide to cover. For all of the attention that Georgia’s offensive line has received, this Alabama unit has been every bit as good. In fact, Alabama has actually been better than the Dawgs in line yards, and their paltry 3.1% sack rate on passing downs ranks fifth in the nation. Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson are very good, but this will be a heavyweight bout against the likes of Jedrick Wills and Alex Leatherwood.

It’s strength on strength there, but on the other side Auburn’s offensive line has been rather awful. To be sure, Alabama does not have the horses up front that they are accustomed to having, but you have to believe that Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis will be feisty in their last Iron Bowl on campus. Most games are won in the trenches, and I believe that Alabama has a great chance to win on both sides of the ball there.

It’s going to be a little ugly, but look for Najee Harris to hit 125 yards on the ground, Mac to throw for around 250, and for the Tide to play slower on offense than they have all season. I think they get it done somewhat convincingly, around 31-13.

That’s right now though, talk to me tomorrow and we’ll see if I change my mind. It’s also just my opinion: vote and give us your prediction in the comments.

Poll

What will be the result of the Iron Bowl?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Tide states its case, burns the Barn by double digits
    (312 votes)
  • 35%
    We’re all nervous for the whole four hours, Bama pulls it out by 1-9
    (204 votes)
  • 9%
    Auburn’s defense is too much for Mac, Bama loses (Can’t even be mad at you this time, it could happen)
    (57 votes)
573 votes total Vote Now

Around the South, rivalry week just doesn’t seem as fun as it used to be. Georgia-Georgia Tech, Florida-FSU, and Clemson-South Carolina have all become so lopsided that they aren’t really compelling. Really, the only two games that I look forward to watching outside of Alabama are Ohio State in the Big House with their unbeaten season on the line and Bedlam between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Wisconsin at Minnesota is moderately intriguing, but I kind of expect the Golden Gophers’ magic to run out in that one.

Last, if you missed the ending of the Egg Bowl, hoo boy.

That might be the single funniest thing I have ever seen happen on a football field, and the most #WAOM thing imaginable. Guess you can say they pissed the game away, eh?

That’s about it for today. Have a great weekend.

Roll Tide.