This year's Auburn-Alabama game is going to be played by two outstanding football teams, and I don't think that the game will be decided on emotions. I think both teams will be charged as high as they can possibly be charged emotionally. So how is the game going to be decided?
You've got different strengths and weaknesses on both sides, and good matchups. I can't see where one team is a whole lot better than the other from a matchup standpoint although I may be proven wrong when the game is played.
Let's go back to the emotional thing. When you get ready to play a big game like this, with as much on the line as there is for both schools, the coaches have to do very little motivating because the players are getting motivated from home and on campus. Newspapers and television programs are writing and talking about the magnitude of this game so as a head coach you don't have to do very much talking to your players about the significance of playing well.
What you have to do is focus on what it is going to take to win on Friday and how the game could be lost through mistakes or lack of execution. I have no doubt that is what Gene Chizik and his staff have been doing since the Georgia game.
Football is a multi-faceted game when you take into consideration the kick and punt coverage and return teams, the kickers, the holders and the deep snappers as well as the offenses and defenses. In the special teams I don't see a decided advantage for either side. Marquis Maze is a little better punt returner than Auburn's got, but the kickoff return teams are pretty equal and Auburn's coverage teams, which are much improved compared to last year, may be a little better than Alabama's coverage teams.
Alabama has an outstanding defense that will have a chance to match up with Auburn's outstanding offense as well as anybody has all year. However, Auburn has moved the ball against everybody it has played and has improved as the season has progressed. If the Tigers execute like they have and avoid penalties and avoid turning the ball over, I think the Tigers will be able to move the ball and score points against Alabama on Friday.
Coach Gene Chizik's offense leads the SEC in rushing, total offense and scoring this season.
When looking at Alabama's offense against Auburn's defense, the Tigers have given up more total yardage and more points than Alabama's defense has this year, but Auburn's defense has performed well in the critical situations in every ball game they have played this year.
The Tigers have made key stops when games are on the line. I think the most significant thing about Auburn's defense is how strong the Tigers have been in the fourth quarter. That will play a significant role in the game unless it gets out of hand on one side or the other. I don't think it will get out of hand unless one team makes a lot of turnovers and gives the ball away on the short field. If that happens then it could get one-sided, but I think it will be close and decided in the late stages of the game.
I also think that it is a mistake to make the game bigger than it really is. I think the Auburn kids were a little over-excited for their final home game against Georgia. I think that was because of the implications of winning that day that included sewing up the SEC West championship, ending a losing streak in the Georgia rivalry and sending out the seniors with a win in their final game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. I am sure the players have learned from that.
The fact that the Tigers stayed calm after their bad start vs. Georgia and came back and won the game going away says a lot about the poise and leadership on the team.
It's often said, and it's true, that great players make big plays in big games. That is no different today than it was when our 1982 Auburn team won the Iron Bowl in my second year as head coach. I remember we were fighting and scratching trying to win that game. We were probably out-manned in some areas and then Bo Jackson makes a big play when he breaks a 53-yard run that put us in position to kick a field goal to make it a five-point game.
After that we converted two or three critical downs on the last drive before Bo scores the touchdown that ultimately wins the game. Exciting games with great plays by great players is why there is so much excitement in this rivalry and so much of anticipation. We all want to see who makes the great plays this year.
If it is as close as I expect it to be on Friday, it will boil down to a mistake here, a penalty there, a missed assignment, and then who can make the plays when they need to make plays.
With both teams ranked in the Top 10 we have got a great matchup in this year's game. The stakes couldn't be any higher for Auburn, and the stakes are high for Alabama, too. That is why I am looking forward to Friday and a lot of other people are, too.
Editor's Note: This part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns a week--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)