Stuart McNair

Stat Tiger Column: Previewing Auburn at Alabama Football GAme

Stuart Carter crunches the numbers to preview what could happen in this year's Iron Bowl game in his StatTiger column.

Jalen Hurts (above) is the key player for Alabama's offense.

No. 16 Auburn (8-3, 5-2 SEC) at No. 1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC)

Series Record: Alabama leads 44-35-1

Last Meeting: (2015) Alabama 29-13

About the Teams:

•Coach Nick Saban of Alabama is 202-60-1 as a collegiate head coach and 111-18 at Alabama. Gus Malzahn is 44-19 in college and 35-16 at Auburn.

•The last time out Auburn defeated Alabama A&M 55-0 and Alabama defeated UT-Chattanooga 31-3.

•Alabama under Saban is 6-3 in the Iron Bowl, having won four of the last five meetings.

•Freshman Jalen Hurts is having a strong campaign for Alabama with 19 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He currently is the No. 4 rated passer in the conference and has 803 rushing yards with 11 touchdowns on the ground.

•Damien Harris leads Alabama in rushing with 850 yards at 7.4 per attempt. He has recorded four 100-yard games this season against Power-5 competition.

•Alabama has a trio of lethal receivers this season with Calvin Ridley leading the team with 57 receptions on the season. ArDarius Stewart is their big play receiver with 39 receptions and O.J. Howard is a weapon at tight end with 30 receptions this season. 

•Linebacker Ruben Foster leads Alabama in tackles with 75. He is one of four players with at least nine tackles for loss. Alabama is No. 6 nationally in that category, recording an average of 8.1 tackles for loss per game.

•Auburn could play multiple quarterbacks this week with Sean White not being 100 percent. White is the No. 5 rated passer in the conference with a 146.9 rating. Jeremy Johnson performed efficiently last week and John Franklin gives Auburn a significant threat in the running game.

•Kamryn Pettway still leads the SEC with 138.3 yards per game, but has not played the last two games because of a quad injury. He is expected to return to action for the Iron Bowl. Kerryon Johnson has rushed for 823 yards this season and Kam Martin has averaged 7.3 yards per rush on 44 attempts. Johnson is closer to being fully healthy and Martin could provide the explosiveness needed on offense.

•Safety Tray Matthews leads Auburn in tackles with 67 followed by Johnathan Ford with 57. Carl Lawson leads the Tigers in tackles for loss (12.5) and sacks (9.0).

How They Match Up...

•Auburn is currently No. 5 nationally in rushing and will face the nation's No. 1 ranked defense against the run.

•Alabama’s average score against Power-5 competition is 41-14. Auburn's average score is 26-17.

•Hurts is No. 53 in pass efficiency on third down, facing an Auburn defense ranked No. 25 against the pass on third down.

•Auburn has averaged 402 yards and 26 points per game against Power-5 competition while Alabama has allowed 274 yards and 11 points per game on defense vs. Power-5 opponents.

•Alabama has scored touchdowns 57.9 percent of the time inside the red zone against Power-5 opponents and will face an Auburn defense allowing a 29.6 percent touchdown conversion rate. Auburn's offense has scored touchdowns on 48.4 percent of its red zone trips while Alabama's defense has allowed a 40.0 percent touchdown conversion rate.

Keys to Victory...

•During the last 35 Iron Bowls the team with the most rushing yardage is 29-6. Alabama has averaged 189 yards rushing in the Iron Bowl during the last nine meetings compared to Auburn's 135 yards.

•Though Alabama is No. 9 nationally in pass efficiency defense the Tide is No. 42 on first down pass defense. Can Auburn take advantage of one of the few weaknesses in the Alabama defense?

•Alabama has scored a nation-leading 12 non-offensive touchdowns this season. Auburn cannot permit Alabama to score in this manner because it is already facing a major challenge of scoring against a team allowing only 11.4 points per game.

•Auburn is 8-2 during the last 30 Iron Bowls with at least 150 yards rushing. 

•Protecting the football will be critical for the Tigers. Auburn has turned the football over at least once in 29 of the last 30 Iron Bowls. Auburn is 9-3 during the games with one turnover or less and 7-11 during the remaining Iron Bowls.

•Malzahn at the collegiate level is 64-12 in games with 45 rush attempts. During the last 35 Iron Bowls, Auburn is 13-4 with at least 40 rush attempts.

What to Watch...

•Taking the scoring averages and margins from Power-5 competition only, it projects Alabama to win 27-14.

•Alabama will play the run on first down and blitz on third down. Will Rhett Lashlee, Auburn’s offensive coordinator and play caller, be prepared to throw on first down and to call max protection on third down?

•Lashlee must be creative on first down to prevent playing uphill against a stern Alabama defense. During the last 25 Iron Bowls, Auburn is 7-2 when the Tigers win the first down battle and 5-11 when they don’t.

•If Auburn is unable to generate explosive plays on offense the chances of winning will diminish. During the last 25 Iron Bowls, Auburn is 9-5 during games with at least six plays of 15 yards or more and 3-8 with less than six. 

•During Alabama’s losses under Saban the opponent averaged 138 yards rushing with a pass efficiency rating of 145.1. Auburn should be able to reach the 138 yards rushing, but can the Tigers pass the ball efficiently against Alabama on Saturday?

Final Word...

Coach Malzahn announced the return of Kamryn Pettway and Chandler Cox to the lineup this week. Their return is an enormous boost to an offense which will require a physical presence to compete with the Alabama defense. Alabama enters the game as a heavy favorite and is considered to be the best football team in the country this season. The two teams have faced five common opponents this season with Alabama winning those games by an average score of 38-18. Auburn won four of the five games with an average score of 34-17. This indicates the possibility of a much closer game than some would expect.

KAMRYN PETTWAY (PHOTO BY JASON CALDWELL)

Kamryn Pettway has not played since being injured in a victory vs. Vandy.

The primary difference is the injuries on offense Auburn sustained since defeating Ole Miss. The offense has not been the same without Pettway and a healthy White in the lineup. Though Pettway will be available for the Iron Bowl, how close to full speed he will be is a question and so is the health of White if he does play as he tries to overcome a shoulder injury.

 Auburn’s defense has been stellar this season, especially when it comes to scoring. Auburn hasn’t allowed an opponent to reach 30 points this season and Alabama has given up 30 points on two occasions. The defense kept Auburn in the Iron Bowl last season until late in the final period. The same should be expected this season with Auburn playing better defense in 2016 and Alabama lacking the physical punch it possessed last season in their running game.

The key for Auburn will be the play of the offense and the game plan implemented by the coaching staff. There should be no surprises when it comes to the Alabama defense as it sells out to defend the run on first down and applies pressure during obvious passing situations. Even Alabama has tendencies on defense, but very few opponents have been able to expose them over the past nine years. The Tide’s primary strategy on defense is to make you predictable, and most opponents fall into their trap. For Auburn to be successful on offense this week it will require consistent execution and a game plan void of major tendencies from the previous 11 games.

The “armchair coach” perspective is for Auburn to be aggressive on offense, especially in the passing game. Alabama is No. 12 nationally in allowing plays of 20 yards or more and Auburn is No. 37 in generating them. It will be difficult driving the football against Alabama's defense, placing more emphasis on the passing game to produce such plays.

Although the passing game will be important, Auburn cannot afford to stray too far from its offensive identity. In reality, any offense has a better chance of success if it can execute what it normally does well rather than struggling while trying to play outside its comfort zone.

Coaching offense in the Southeastern Conference, Malzahn has won 37 percent of the games his offense was held under 35 rush attempts and 81 percent during games with 40 rush attempts or more. Establishing the run, playing solid defense and bringing a good kicking game to the mix was a very successful formula for Coach Pat Dye. Auburn needs to return this year’s Iron Bowl to the era of the 1980s and 1990s. During this time frame of the Iron Bowl the over and under in the series was less than 37 points. If the Auburn defense can hold Alabama to under 20 points, the Tigers will have a shot with limited miscues. Alabama 23, Auburn 13

Around the Southeastern Conference:

LSU over Texas A&M

Arkansas over Missouri

Louisville over Kentucky

Georgia over Georgia Tech

Mississippi State over Ole Miss

Clemson over South Carolina

Tennessee over Vanderbilt

Florida over Florida State

Season Record: 74-27 (.733)


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