Photo by Jason Caldwell

Jason Caldwell's Monday Morning Quarterback Column: Iron Bowl Week

A look at what the Auburn Tigers need to do to pull off an upset in this year's Iron Bowl is featured along with commentary about the NFL success of former Tiger star Cam Newton.

Iron Bowl Week Again

It’s that time again when football fans all over the state of Alabama get ready for one of the toughest weeks of the year to enjoy as a fan, win or lose. If your team goes into the Iron Bowl as the favorite then all week you’re dreading not playing well and having to endure what has surely been some pre-game trash talking to your friends and neighbors.

As the underdog it sometimes feels like just getting it over with is the best thing to do because all week you’re the one getting talked to about how your team has no chance or how it will be another long year of bragging rights for the rival.

I remember those days and sometimes not fondly growing up in Sylacauga where I was one of what was a growing number of Auburn fans in a town that historically was Alabama to the core. While still outnumbered I was 10 years old when Bo went over the top at Legion Field to beat Alabama and end 10 long years of misery for Auburn fans in the Iron Bowl rivalry.

Fans my age and younger have been fortunate to witness a great amount of success for Auburn against the Crimson Tide as the Tigers have won 18 of 33 games since then, but recently Alabama has the edge with five wins in the last seven years in the series. While those two  wins (2010, 2013) were huge for Auburn for during championships seasons, it has been a struggle to maintain success vs. the Tide since Tommy Tuberville left the Plains.

There is no question Auburn faces an uphill battle on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium with #2 Alabama coming in with running back Derrick Henry the Heisman Trophy favorite, but just six years ago it was No. 2 Alabama rolling in to face an Auburn team that was just trying to finish out Gene Chizik’s first season on a positive note. It took a late touchdown pass for Alabama to survive that day as the Tigers shut down future Heisman winner Mark Ingram. If Auburn can repeat that performance on defense who knows what can happen.


What Will It Take For The Tigers?

The first thing I believe it will take for Auburn to pull out the win is to make Alabama’s offense one-dimensional, something Arkansas and Tennessee were both able to do in games at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Not coincidentally, Alabama trailed in both of those games into the fourth quarter, meaning if Auburn can put the game in the hands of quarterback Jake Coker then the Tigers will give themselves a much better chance of getting a win.

Even if the defense does that the Auburn offense has to be able to push the ball down the field with the passing game. Only twice this season has Alabama allowed the opposition to top the century mark on the ground, allowing 193 to Georgia and 132 to Tennessee. That means either Jeremy Johnson or Sean White, or both, have to take shots throwing the ball down the field against an Alabama secondary that is adept at making big plays, but also can allow the big play because of its aggressiveness.

It will be up to Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray, Tony Stevens, Jason Smith and others to make plays in one-on-one situations on Saturday. If that happens the Tigers will have a chance to loosen a stout Alabama rush defense and move the ball on the ground. With every short pass or run in obvious situations, however, the Crimson Tide will inch closer and closer to the line of scrimmage, making it tougher and tougher for the Tigers to move the football.



When Cam Newton was coming out of Auburn several NFL Draft “experts” had him with a very high potential bust factor and wondered about his leadership heading into the league. All they had to do was ask his coaches and teammates at Auburn who saw and felt Newton’s presence at every turn in a tumultuous 2010 season for the eventual Heisman Trophy winner. Dealing with more than just about any player could handle that year Newton showed he was a winner and a leader, just what teams want in a quarterback of any skill level much less one of the most physically gifted players to ever play the position.

Jim Brown/USA TODAY Sports

Cam Newton is having his best season as an NFL quarterback.

Fast forward five years and the guy some were saying should be taken in front of Newton, Blaine Gabbert, is already on his second team while Cam has already made two Pro Bowls and is headed for his third this year. A very real NFL MVP candidate with the Carolina Panthers a perfect 10-0 to start the season, Newton has again proven he’s one of the best football players in the country and knows how to win. In the end that’s the most important things at the quarterback position.

Early in his career Cam was vilified for showing his disappointment on the sidelines during losses, but what NFL people didn’t understand is that what looked to be sulking to some was outright disgust for a guy that wants to win more than just about any player I have covered. When the fear of losing is stronger than the desire of winning you’ve got someone who will give their everything to make sure that doesn’t happen. That’s what Carolina has in Cam. Good thing they didn’t listen to the so-called experts.

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