Week 13 of College Football will bring some of the nastiest rivalries in the sport. The Iron Bowl between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers has some memorable moments with serious consequences. Last year in a matchup between top five ranked teams, fifth-ranked Auburn shocked top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide 26-14 in Auburn. The Tigers won the SEC West division, but the Tide got the last laugh by getting into the playoffs. Alabama won the National Championship game against the Georgia Bulldogs, who embarrassed Auburn in the SEC Championship. This year, the Tigers (7-4) have largely disappointed, but a win against Alabama would certainly be redeeming. Although they’re focusing on their overall journey, top ranked Alabama is looking for revenge against Auburn this Saturday.
Alabama’s defense is ready for anything
Throughout the 2018 season, one of the most inexperienced Alabama defenses has emerged into one of the most efficient in the nation. They have faced hurry-up offenses, triple-options, spread-options, full spread formations, and many other systems and schemes.
Auburn’s offense, meanwhile, has underwhelmed this year in terms of production and inefficiency. Last season, Auburn finished 25th in the nation in points per game (33.9) and 26th in total offense (451.3 YPG). This season, they are ranked 67th in points per game (28.9) and tied for 85th in total offense (382). The Crimson Tide defense is not taking the chance of the Tigers’ offense not showing up again. Rivalry games are where teams unveil their most clever trick plays and reverses. Despite a lack of production this season, Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham has the talent to score on any defense.
For Alabama’s defense to avoid long drives, they must play smart in the secondary. Alabama is second in the nation in defensive efficiency and third nationally in points allowed per game (13.1). Alabama’s young secondary will be active and alert for trick plays and that gives Auburn the option of employing the vertical passing attack. This means taking away an extra blitzer from either the secondary or linebacking corps to avoid those big plays. Alabama’s defense ranks tenth in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (169.5). Safety Xavier McKinney has excelled in coverage over the past couple of games. Linebacker Mack Wilson and safety Deionte Thompson must be alert against screens or quick passes up the middle. This is an integral part of Gus Malzahn’s quick spread offense.
The Defensive Line Can Wreak Havoc Quickly
Last season Stidham was extremely effective from the pocket. This season, he has shown more panic in his progressions. This has led to bad decisions for the Auburn signal caller all season. The Auburn offensive line is shaky, at best, despite allowing only 20 sacks throughout the season. They have not blocked well in the run game, either. The Crimson Tide’s defensive line is, as usual, tormenting opposing offenses. The defense has accounted for 34 total sacks this season, which is tied for 11th best in the nation. Chuck Bednarik Award Finalist Quinnen Williams has been stout at the line and dominant in his first year as a starter. In eleven games, Williams has accounted for 55 total tackles, 33 solo tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and six sacks. Williams is a player who can get into the backfield consistently and create chaos.
Defensive end Isaiah Buggs is another consistent pass rusher for the Tide defense. He has 37 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 9.5 sacks. The Tide have a set of solid hybrid defensive ends/outside linebackers in Anfernee Jennings and Christian Miller. Jennings has 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and six pass breakups while in either pass rush or in pass coverage. Miller has had a breakout senior year by accounting for ten tackles for loss and seven sacks this season.
For Alabama to get their revenge, the defensive line must dominate the line of scrimmage and pressure Stidham.
It’s Tua Tagovailoa’s time to shine once again
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa re-wrote much of the Alabama record book this year. He has 164 completions (out of 237 attempts) for 2,865 yards, 31 touchdowns, only two interceptions, and a rating of 212.2. There are surely more goals for Tagovailoa this season, and exacting revenge against Auburn is certainly one of them. The Tide will have a full arsenal of talented receivers, tight ends, and running backs returning from injuries. Receiver Jerry Jeudy has 1,002 yards and ten touchdowns on 51 receptions this season. Auburn’s star first-year cornerback in Noah Igbinoghene has been fantastic in tight man-on-man coverage. Igbinoghene will likely cover Jeudy or freshman receiver Jaylen Waddle throughout the game. That player match-up is key to Alabama’s offensive success.
The Crimson Tide are third in the nation in points per game (48.7), third in total offense (541), and seventh in passing offense (328). This is largely due to Tagovailoa’s explosive and consistent playmaking ability as a passer and runner. The Tigers, meanwhile, are tied for tenth in points allowed per game (16.6). Auburn has found success in their red zone defense all season. The Tigers are, however, 46th in passing defense (208.4 yards allowed per game). Auburn will try to make Alabama one-dimensional by shutting down running backs Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs.
Even if Auburn’s defense is successful slowing Harris and Jacobs down, controlling the passing game will be difficult. Auburn’s one chance against the passing game is a career day from both defensive end Nick Coe (13 TFLs and seven sacks) and defensive tackle Derrick Brown (9.5 TFLs).
Tide will be tested quick but will likely up quick
Rivalry games bring out the best in everyone, especially the underdogs. Auburn will be looking to end a disappointing regular season on a high note. That emotion only goes so far, though. With a stout offensive line, athletic receivers, a strong defense, and a Heisman Trophy leader in Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide establish their dominance early. Once Alabama has control in this game, don’t expect them to let it go. Revenge is a compelling force, after all.
The Tide will finish with an undefeated regular season record for the first time since the 2016 college football season.