Alabama Football: Auburn Tigers Offensive Preview

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 18: Tank Bigsby #4 of the Auburn Tigers carries the ball against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first half at Beaver Stadium on September 18, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 18: Tank Bigsby #4 of the Auburn Tigers carries the ball against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first half at Beaver Stadium on September 18, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Alabama football looks to end an emotional rollercoaster of a regular season on a high by beating the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl. With a win, Alabama would hit double-digit wins for the 15th straight season.

The Auburn offense has been unimpressive for most of the season, but trends can sometimes become irrelevant in an Iron Bowl environment. The Tigers currently rank 78th nationally in total offense at 377 yards per game, and 90th in scoring at 24.5 points per game.

Alabama Football must stop the run

The strength of the Auburn offense is its running game, led by talented running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter. Bigsby has been the Tigers’ top offensive weapon for the entirety of his time on the Plains. The junior back has accumulated 3,289 yards of total offense and 25 touchdowns in his career. He has rushed for 907 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, despite getting a lot of attention from opposing defenses.

Tank Bigsby is a great player, but has largely struggled against the Crimson Tide. In two career Iron Bowls, he has totaled just 105 yards on 41 touches (2.6 yards per play). Despite the high usage rate, Bigsby has never scored a touchdown against Alabama football. The Tide defense hopes to keep him out of the end zone again this week.

Sophomore Jarquez Hunter would likely start on a lot of other teams. In two seasons, he has amassed 1,397 yards of offense and 13 scores despite playing a backup role to Bigsby. He has been effective as a ball-carrier and a pass-catcher in 2022. For the year, Hunter has 743 yards and nine total touchdowns. He has been particularly effective in recent weeks, scoring touchdowns in three of his last four games. Hunter has also eclipsed 100 yards rushing in back-to-back games after not hitting that mark previously this season.

Can Alabama Football take advantage of Auburn’s predictability?

While Auburn has a good running game, they are extremely one-dimensional. The passing attack has been one of the nation’s worst all year. Auburn has started two quarterbacks this season, junior TJ Finley and redshirt sophomore Robby Ashford, and neither have been effective.

As a team, Auburn has completed less than 52 percent of its passes for 181.4 passing yards per game (115th in FBS). The Tigers have eight passing touchdowns as opposed to 12 interceptions in 2022, and running back Jarquez Hunter accounted for one of the eight touchdown passes.

Ashford has been the starter since week four. He is electric with his legs, but has really struggled throwing the ball and seems to be regressing week to week. In the month of November, he has completed 40 percent of his passes (22 of 55) for just 257 yards (85.7 yards per game).

Ashford has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in three straight games and in six of his last seven appearances. In four of the last five outings, Ashford has failed to hit double-digit completions or 150 passing yards. These passing numbers are almost shockingly bad. For all intents and purposes, Ashford is an athlete that happens to be taking snaps for the Tigers.

When he does complete a pass, Ja’Varrius Johnson has been the top target. Johnson has 25 catches for 473 yards and two touchdowns this year. He was far more impactful with TJ Finley under center, gaining nearly half of his production in Finley’s three starts way back in September. Koy Moore, Shedrick Jackson, and tight end John Samuel Shenker have also been notable receivers for the Tigers.

While his arm doesn’t pose much of a threat, Robby Ashford adds another dimension to the Auburn ground attack. He has scampered for 589 yards and five touchdowns this season. At face value, this is a lot of rushing production for a quarterback. Given that they include 20 sacks, the numbers show that Ashford has been very dangerous as a runner.

Auburn ranks 31st in the country in rushing offense at 195.6 rushing yards per game, and has leaned on the run game more and more as the season has gone by. The Tigers have posted more than 250 rushing yards in three straight games and four of their last five.

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This Iron Bowl will be a strength-on-strength battle, as Alabama football ranks seventh nationally and first in the SEC allowing just 3.1 yards per carry. If the Crimson Tide defense can contain Ashford and slow down the Auburn running backs, the Tigers just don’t have enough of a passing game to move the ball effectively.