Stuart McNair

Stat Tiger Column: Previewing Alabama at Auburn Football Game

Stuart Carter (Stat Tiger) crunches the numbers to predict what will happen in Saturday's Iron Bowl game as the Auburn Tigers play host to Alabama.

Derrick Henry (above) is Alabama's top offensive player.

No. 2 Alabama (10-1) at Auburn (6-5)

Series Record: Alabama leads 43-35-1

Series Record: Alabama Leads 43-35-1

Last Meeting: (2014) Alabama 55-44

About the teams:

Coach Nick Saban is 187-60-1 all time and 96-18 at Alabama. Coach Gus Malzahn is 35-15 all-time and 26-12 at Auburn.

Auburn is coming off a 56-34 victory over Idaho and Alabama is coming off a 56-6 thrashing of Charleston. 

Auburn is 8-4 against Alabama at Jordan-Hare. 

Alabama under Nick Saban is 56-12 in conference play and Saban is 84-24 all time in the Southeastern Conference.

Jake Coker leads Alabama in passing, averaging 191.5 yards passing per game with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Jeremy Johnson leads Auburn with 133 pass attempts with eight touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Sean White leads Auburn in passing yards with 1,064. 

Alabama’s Derrick Henry is second in the SEC in rushing yardage averaging 138.7 per game. He has 1,582 yards at 6.6 per carry and has rushed for 17 touchdowns. Peyton Barber leads Auburn in rushing yards with 947 and 13 touchdowns. Jovon Robinson looks to be the primary rusher at this stage of the season, averaging 110.5 yards per game during Auburn's last four games. He has averaged 6.1 yards per carry.

Alabama has a solid one-two punch at wide receiver led by Calvin Ridley’s 61 receptions for 701 yards. ArDarius Stewart has 42 receptions for 455 yards. Ricardo Louis leads Auburn with 44 receptions for 675 yards, followed by Marcus Davis with 27 receptions.

Jason Caldwell

Ricardo Louis will be playing his final home game on Saturday.

Linebacker Reggie Ragland leads the Alabama defense with 85 tackles followed by Reuben Foster's 52 stops. Alabama is No. 6 in the conference in tackles for lost yardage at 7.4 per game. Rudy Ford leads the Auburn defense with 104 tackles and Kris Frost is No. 2 on the team with 85 tackles. Cassanova McKinzy leads the Tigers in tackles with loss with 10 and the Tigers are last in the SEC in tackles for lost yardage at 4.4 per game.

Alabama is No. 11 in the conference, allowing 6.9 tackles for loss per game.

Alabama has the edge in the punting game regarding average, return average and return defense. 

Alabama’s secondary was a major question mark during preseason, but has improved. The Tide is No. 6 nationally in pass efficiency defense, No. 10 in interceptions and No. 2 in passes defended.

Despite having only 49 offensive touches, Roc Thomas has produced 10 impact plays for Auburn this season. He needs to have at least five to seven offensive touches against Alabama.

How they match up...

  • Alabama is No. 2 nationally in stopping the run, holding its opponents to more than 55 percent below their rushing averages. This projects Auburn to rush for 91 yards.
  • Looking at the six common opponents only, scoring margins and averages points to a convincing Alabama victory. The two scoring projections are Alabama, 24-16, and Alabama, 36-11. Average the two scores and Alabama is projected as a 30-13 winner.
  • In conference play, Alabama is averaging 31 points per game while allowing 18. Auburn during regulation is averaging 20 points while allowing 24 in league games.
  • Auburn is No. 58 nationally in yards averaged running the ball on first down. Alabama is No. 8 nationally in first down run defense.
  • Alabama’s defense is No. 93 nationally in third down percentage, something Auburn must take advantage of this Saturday.
  • Alabama is No. 3 nationally in scoring defense vs. Auburn, which is  ranked No. 69 in scoring. 
  • Since 1951 the team that finished the season with the better record is 54-7 in the series. This includes Auburn’s record of 2-18 vs. Alabama when the Crimson Tide entered the game ranked in the to four of the Associated Press poll.
  • Though Alabama is once again dominating on defense, its offense is No. 54 nationally in yards per game and No. 49 in touchdown ratio. Alabama has scored eight non-offensive touchdowns this season.

Keys to Victory...

Alabama has lost only 10 games during the past eight seasons. One of the keys to defeating the Crimson Tide is great play at the opposing quarterback position. During those losses Alabama’s opponent had a combined pass-efficiency rating of 160.8.

During the games Auburn has won or been competitive against Saban’s Alabama teams, Auburn had a pass efficiency of 141.1, completing better than 60 percent of its passes for 10 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

During the past eight seasons Alabama only allowed 79.8 yards rushing when it won and 144.7 yards when it was defeated. Auburn must run well enough to set up the passing game. 

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Gus Malzahn is 1-1 in Iron Bowls as head coach of the Tigers.

During the last five meetings against Alabama the Crimson Tide has burned Auburn for two deep passes in every game. The Auburn defense must make Alabama work for every yard it gains. Auburn is No. 6 nationally in preventing pass plays of 25 yards or more.

Auburn must place the Alabama offense into obvious passing situations. The Tide is No. 104 nationally in pass efficiency on third down. 

During the last 35 Iron Bowls the team with the most rushing yardage is 29-6 in the series and 7-1 since Saban has been at Alabama. 

Taking away the Alabama running game will be the key on defense for the Tigers. During the last 25 Iron Bowls, Auburn is 1-7 against the Tide when Alabama rushed for at least 200 yards The average score during those games was 36-16.

Jeremy Johnson will likely make his sixth start of the season. The junior quarterback will have to play his best game of the season for Auburn to pull off the upset. 

Auburn will need at least 150 yards rushing to win the game, something only one team accomplished this season against Alabama.

What to Watch...

  1. Look for Johnson to start the game and for Auburn to utilize him more in the read-option aspect of the offense. 
  2. Impact plays on offense will be vital. From 1992-2014, Auburn has averaged 22 points per game vs. Alabama with at least five impact plays and only 12 points with less. During the three games Auburn had eight or more impact plays the Tigers averaged 34 points against the Tide.
  3. Look for less substitution on the Auburn offense to limit Alabama’s substitution on defense. 
  4. Look for Malzahn to attack the perimeter of Alabama’s defense with the read-option, speed sweeps and end-around plays. This will include pass plays from the read-option look.
  5. The Auburn offense was extremely aggressive last season in the Iron Bowl, which resulted in 630 yards and 44 points. Look for another aggressive game plan on offense but does Auburn have the quarterback to deliver in 2015? 
  6. Look for Alabama to apply pressure on Auburn's quarterback early and often. Malzahn must respond by targeting the spaces vacated by the Alabama defense during their blitz packages.
  7. From 1981-2014 Auburn is 10-4 in the Iron Bowl when leading at halftime.
  8. During the same period, Auburn is 5-10 in the Iron Bowl when the Tigers are scoreless after the first period.  

Final Word...

 Alabama is clearly the better team coming into the 2015 Iron Bowl, primarily because of its dominating defense. When your defense is allowing only 15 points per game the offense has less pressure to produce. Alabama has scored an offensive touchdown every 19 snaps while Auburn’s offense has produced one every 22 snaps. There isn’t much separation between the offenses, but a huge one when it comes to defense. This is the obstacle the Auburn offense must overcome to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the season. There have been very few upsets during the history of this series and the cliché of “tossing out the records” is a myth when it comes to the Iron Bowl. 

Auburn’s defense will give the Tigers an opportunity to keep the game competitive for at least one half. During the past five meetings against Alabama, the Crimson Tide had an average national ranking of No. 11 in pass efficiency. This includes a Top 10 ranking in four of the past five seasons before 2015. This season Alabama enters the Iron Bowl with the No. 51 pass efficiency offense, which means Henry will be the focus of attention for the Auburn defense. During the last 25 Iron Bowls, Auburn is 11-4 when Alabama fails to have a 100-yard rusher and 1-9 when Alabama has a 100-yard rusher. The more yardage Henry gains against the Auburn defense, the less likely Auburn is to win.

Auburn’s defense matches up better against the Alabama offense than the Auburn offense does against the Alabama defense. This means that Johnson will have to play well for Auburn to be victorious. Auburn legends have been born in the Iron Bowl, and Johnson will have the opportunity to add his name to the list. He must play without fear or hesitation, and the coaching staff must be committed to Johnson and the game plan he is asked to operate. At this point in the season, players and teams are, for the most part, what they are. Alabama has made the plays to build a 10-1 record and Auburn has struggled to finish, losing four of its games by eight points or less. The emotion of the rivalry should keep Auburn in the hunt, but in the end, Auburn will once again struggle to make the plays when needed the most.  Alabama 31, Auburn 13

Around the Southeastern Conference:

Arkansas over Missouri

No. 1 Clemson over South Carolina

Georgia over Georgia Tech

Louisville over Kentucky

Tennessee over Vanderbilt

Ole Miss over Mississippi State

No. 14 FSU over #8 Florida

No. 15 LSU over Texas A&M

Season Record: 77-24

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