The Alabama Crimson Tide do not look like a College Football Playoff team. Yet, they can move one step closer to the playoff by beating the Auburn Tigers in the latest edition of the Iron Bowl.
By Matt Zemek
The Iron Bowl is accompanied by a profound sadness and emptiness this year. Cecil Hurt, the longtime columnist for the Tuscaloosa News, one of the great Southern sportswriters of our time, died on Tuesday, just days before this game. The outpouring of grief and the flood of loving remembrances of Mr. Hurt has lent a poignant dimension to this game, recalling the 2006 Michigan-Ohio State game in which Bo Schembechler died just before kickoff.
The Iron Bowl is always an emotional cauldron, but the backdrop will be even more charged with feeling this year. Let’s see what Alabama needs to focus on more than anything else.
1 – Two units, one team
The Alabama offense did not show up against LSU. The Alabama defense did not show up against Arkansas. There have been very few games this year in which Alabama’s offense and defense both played well at the same time. Nick Saban usually gets his guys on the same page and generates accountability from everyone in the locker room. This year, something has been off the whole way. It’s true that the offensive line lost multiple leaders from the 2020 national championship squad. It’s true that the defense has suffered key injuries, particularly at linebacker. Yet, Alabama – more than any other program – has cultivated depth and found a way to get the next man up to play like a champion. That part of the Saban identity has not surfaced as much this year as it normally has in the past. This is a game in which everyone has to be equally ready and equally productive. The half-a-loaf game style – one side of the ball doing well, the other doing poorly – won’t cut it.
2 – Pass to set up the run
It’s tempting to think Alabama needs to establish the run, given how much the offense struggled to run against LSU. However, Bryce Young is a gifted athlete. Putting the ball in his hands is the starting point for this offense. Young can sling the ball, and Bama needed that passing proficiency to beat Arkansas. Young needs to get off to a good start in a road rivalry game. If he can establish a good foundation in the first quarter and let Auburn know he will carve them up with his arm, then Alabama can get bodies out of the tackle box and run for yardage. Young can also scramble for first downs as well. The passing game is Bama’s strength. Lead with that and use it to then set up the run in the second half.
3 – Account for T.J. Finley
Finley looked good in Auburn’s win over Georgia State earlier this year. He is filling in for the injured Bo Nix. He didn’t look great against South Carolina, but you know that Auburn was looking ahead to the Iron Bowl. Alabama needs to be ready for Finley’s very best level of play. Preventing him from scrambling will be a priority.