For the second year in a row, BCS chaos was kind to the Alabama Crimson Tide. After the November 10th loss to Texas A&M, it looked like Alabama’s quest for a second consecutive National Championship, and third in the last four years, was over.
That was until Saturday night when Baylor thumped No. 1 Kansas State and Stanford kicked a game winning field goal in overtime to top No. 2 Oregon and put the Crimson Tide back in control of its own destiny. Alabama was ranked No. 2 in the BCS Sunday evening, behind only undefeated Notre Dame.
Alabama’s path to Miami is clear. They are two wins away from a berth in the BCS National Championship Game. This week, it’s the Iron Bowl against Auburn. A win over the rival Tigers would propel Alabama to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, which would become a play-in game for the BCS Title game as long as Georgia also handles their business this weekend against Georgia Tech.
Alabama can’t look ahead to the matchup with Georgia because to even get to Atlanta the Crimson Tide must beat Auburn this weekend.
This has obviously been one of the worst Auburn teams in a very long time, with the Tigers limping to a 3-8 record and an 0-7 mark in the SEC this year. But, it is the Iron Bowl. The greatest rivalry in all of sports, and crazy things have happened in this game before.
Alabama is clearly the superior team in this matchup, but they can’t take Auburn lightly with what is on the line when the Tigers come to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday afternoon for the 77th edition of the Iron Bowl.
As you know, Auburn’s offense has been pretty pathetic this season, and the statistics fully back that claim up.
Compared to their other offensive statistics, their 73rd ranking in rushing offense looks pretty good. They average 153.5 yards per game on the ground.
Regardless of who Auburn has had at quarterback, the Tigers haven’t had much success through the air ranking 111th in the nation at 164 yards per game. They are 112th in total offense and 107th in scoring offense as they average just over 20 points per game.
Auburn stated the season with Kiehl Frazier as the starting quarterback, but ineffective play led Gene Chizik to make a change and give the reigns to junior Clint Moseley, who made three straight October starts. He couldn’t hang on to the starting job either.
Freshman Jonathan Wallace has been handed the starting job, and so far he has been much more effective as the starter than Frazier and Moseley.
The only problem is that two of Wallace’s three starts have come against New Mexico State and Alabama A&M. He was solid but not spectacular in his one start against quality competition, putting up a respectable stat line against Georgia. He was 15/22 for 181 yards with no interceptions, but he was unable to lead the Tigers to any points against the Bulldogs defense.
Wallace may very well be the future at quarterback for Auburn, but he still has a long way to go and it isn’t realistic to think he will have a whole lot of success against the Alabama defense.
At receiver, Auburn has been a one man show with senior Emory Blake. Blake has had a strong year with 733 receiving yards on 47 catches and 3 touchdowns. Alabama’s secondary has to be aware of where Blake is at all times, and we could see Dee Milliner shadow him for most of the game with him being far and away the best receiver on the field when the Tigers are on offense.
Losing Philip Lutzenkirchen was a big blow to the Tigers, and even though he hasn’t played a single snap in the last five games, he is still Auburn’s second leading receiver 139 yards.
Outside of Blake, no other Auburn receiver even has 150 receiving yards on the year. The likes of C.J. Uzmoh, Trovon Reed, Sammie Coates, and Quan Bray among others will see playing time at receiver, but none of them have been consistent threats on the outside.
The Tigers will try to establish the run against Alabama to make things easier for freshman Jonathan Wallace. It will be a tall task for Auburn to run the ball against Alabama’s defensive front. The Crimson Tide rank 3rd in the country in run defense, giving up only 75 yards per game.
Sophomore Tre Mason is the leading rusher for Auburn with 920 yards and 8 touchdowns on the season averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Mason had a season-high 181 yards on just 12 carries against Alabama A&M last week.
The most dangerous player on the Auburn team has to be senior Onterio McCalebb, who is a homerun threat in the Tigers offense. McCalebb has 573 rushing yards on 6.3 yards per carry to go along with 121 receiving yards. McCalebb can also hurt you in the return game as Alabama found out last year with him running a kickoff back for a touchdown.
Perhaps the most glaring issue for Auburn on offense has been the play of their offensive line. They rank 109th in the country in sacks allowed, having given up 35 sacks on the season, and you better believe that Nick Saban and Kirby Smart will be dialing up blitzes to make the freshman quarterback uncomfortable.
Alabama’s defense has shown some weaknesses the last few weeks, particularly in games against LSU and Texas A&M where the Tigers and Aggies found success through the air.
But, it doesn’t appear on paper that Auburn really has the offensive personnel to take advantage of Alabama’s weaknesses on the back-end. Of course, that changes next week in Atlanta when Georgia comes calling, but for this week the Alabama secondary should be good to go.
It wouldn’t be a big surprise if Jonathan Wallace was able to hit some passes down the field, but I don’t see the Auburn offense having sustained success against the Alabama defense on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.