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Iron Bowl Preview: When Auburn has the Ball

Rushing, rushing, and more rushing

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Iron Bowl time again, and Auburn enters as a team trying to drag itself out of self-implosion on the back of an inexperienced interim coach who was a running back just a few short years ago. Cadillac Williams has brought some energy to the Auburn fanbase since they fired Brian Harsin, and his background shows in the way they run the ball.

It feels like only yesterday that Tank Bigsby was a true freshman phenom, making waves in the SEC. He’s now an upperclassman that somehow stuck it out through the turmoil and is leading the team with nearly 1000 rushing yards, 10 TDs, and a 5.5 YPC average. Bigsby is compact, powerful, and a tough runner both inside the tackles and on the edges. As he goes, so goes Auburn.

They don’t really run the old Malzahn read option and veer run systems, but have gone back to more of a 2005 gorund and pound style featured power runs, pulling guards, and toss sweeps. Sophomore Jarquez Hunter is the primary backup to Bigsby, and operates much like Alabama used to use Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson as a 1-2 punch back in the day.

Then you have to throw in QB Robby Ashford. The Oregon transfer has been anything but consistent as a passer, but the dude is FAST. He has 136 rushing attempts for nearly 600 yards on the season. He gets a lot on scramble plays, but can also be prone to taking bad losses.

As far as the passing game, there isn’t a whole lot to talk about. A huge chunk of the passing production comes from screen passes to Bigsby and Hunter, and even that can be a bit of an adventure getting the ball completed at times. Wide receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson is a speedy outside guy who leads the team with 473 yards (18+ yards per catch). Then there’s TE John Samuel Shenker, who has 200 or so yards on checkdowns. There’s a smattering of other guys with catches, but Johnson, Shenker, and Bigsby are the only ones with more than 20 catches.

Ashford is only completing 49% of his passes with 7 interceptions to 6 touchdowns, so, again, every dropback is an adventure at best. They will make their yards and run the entire offense through their running game with Bigsby and Hunter, with the occasional Ashford dropback (and threat of the scramble) to keep defenses from keying in too much on the backs.

Ultimately, they’re only scoring 24 points per game, and will be happy to put together 2-3 good drives. Alabama’s defense has shown some struggles with powerful interior runners against LSU and Tennessee, but overall, the lack of a passing threat will allow them to get more heavy packages and limit the damage, compared to having to also worry about the wide spread from Tennessee or the highly talented LSU receivers.

I expect less than 20 points for the Auburn offense.