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Alabama and Auburn will meet for the 87th time in Iron Bowl history when the in-state rivals square off on Saturday. In a rare occurrence under Nick Saban, the Iron Bowl will have zero impact on Alabama's future as a participant in the SEC Championship Game or the College Football Playoffs. With neither on the line, the Iron Bowl will be more about the rivalry, pride, and bragging rights this year. With the added energy being provided by interim coach Cadillac Williams, Auburn is playing its best football of the season, and despite the Crimson Tide being heavy favorites, this game has the potential to be a classic.
Here are some key things to look for against Auburn:
The Alabama linebackers will be extremely important in this matchup against Auburn. Will Anderson Jr. and company still have to generate a pass rush, but not as much as usual. Instead, they will need to focus on stopping the run, more importantly, stopping the quarterback run. Robby Ashford, Auburn's quarterback, is not much of a threat in the passing game as he has completed less than 50% of his passes and has more interceptions thrown, seven, than touchdowns thrown, six. However, Ashford is very dangerous in the ground game with the designed runs and even more when he drops back to pass and decides to scramble. If the linebackers can limit the big plays from Ashford and the Auburn running attack, they should put themselves in a good spot to win the game.
Last year the Auburn pass rush dominated the Alabama offensive line recording seven sacks and eight quarterback hurries, causing Bryce Young to run for his life nearly every time he dropped back to pass. While some of the faces from Auburn's pass rush from last year may be missing, Auburn still brings a pass rush that is tied for fourth in the SEC in sacks with 26. One big concern for the Alabama offensive line is the left tackle position, as Tyler Steen exited the Austin Peay game before halftime and didn't return. If Steen cannot go, Alabama would look to Amari Knight to be plugged into the starting lineup. Knight did well against Austin Peay, but Auburn is a much different animal.
With Jahmyr Gibbs out of the Alabama lineup the past two games, Jace McClellan has provided a nice spark for the Crimson Tide run game, and if Gibbs is still unable to go Saturday, McClellan will once again need to step up. One way to prevent Auburn from being aggressive with their pass rush will be to establish a run game. Last year Alabama was unable to really get anything going on the ground, and as a result, Auburn was able to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback without any fear of a ground game. Against Power Five opponents this year, Auburn has been fairly soft against the run allowing 4.8 yards per rush attempt. While Bryce Young is not much of a running quarterback, he may find success Saturday against an Auburn team that has allowed a rushing touchdown to six of the eight Power Five quarterbacks they faced this season.
This Iron Bowl could be the last time some of the coaches and coordinators put on the headset for their teams. With the rumors swirling around Lane Kiffin potentially taking the head coaching job for Auburn, unless interim coach Cadillac Williams delivers a huge upset and really impresses the Auburn boosters, this time next year, the entire Auburn coaching staff could be different. Essentially the Auburn coaching staff is coaching for their jobs Saturday, whether it's at Auburn or at their next destination. On the Alabama sidelines, Nick Saban doesn't seem to be going anywhere, but a bad loss to Auburn to top off a below-average season by Alabama standards, and you just never know what might happen. The more realistic change for Alabama would be at the offensive coordinator spot with Bill O'Brien. O'Brien is in hot water because of his lack of success and vanilla play calling this season, and Bama fans are calling for a change. Despite his lack of success, O'Brien's name has been floated around for college head coaching jobs and even making his way back to the NFL as a coordinator. Regardless of whether he is let go or gets another opportunity somewhere else, this most certainly is his last Iron Bowl at Alabama.
Despite how big of a competitor Bryce Young is, Saturday will most certainly be his final game inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, and more than likely his last game in an Alabama jersey as he is most likely a top 10 NFL draft pick, and there is no need for him to suit it up for whatever bowl game the Tide ends up going to. Young has had a ton of success at home, winning all 12 games he has started, completing 73% of his passes for over 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. It has been a disappointing season of ups and downs for Young, fighting injury and dealing with a group of young receivers, but he will want to end his Alabama career on a high note, and the Heisman Trophy winner will give the home crowd a spectacular finale.
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