Record: 2-5 (Auburn has won the last 4 meetings)
Auburn Numbers: 123 rushing / 198 passing / 321 total / 18 points per game
Alabama Numbers: 127 rushing / 175 passing / 302 total / 17 points per game
2006 Record: 6-5 overall, 2-5 SEC
Total Offense: 338.8 YPG, 63rd
Scoring Offense: 22.9 PPG, 71st
Total Defense: 290.0 YPG, 19th
Scoring Defense: 17.6 PPG, 27th
After being on the plus side of many close games in 2005, Alabama has dropped two games this season decided by less than four points. The Crimson Tide has struggled in the red zone on offense and its running game has not been as consistent as they would have liked. On defense, Alabama has not been as strong as the last two years but it is ranked in the top 20 in total defense.
Last time out…
The Auburn Tigers are coming off a demoralizing defeat to Georgia in a contest dominated by the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball. The Crimson Tide is coming off a competitive game against LSU, which resulted in a 14-point loss. Alabama quarterback, John Parker Wilson threw for 291 yards and two touchdowns but the Alabama defense gave up more than 400 yards to the Bengal Tigers.
Though Auburn possesses the better overall record, Alabama has posted similar numbers on the football field. The Tigers are currently rank at No. 62 in total offense and Alabama is 63rd. The Alabama defense is No. 19 in total defense compared to Auburn's defense at No. 23.
It's difficult to get a good read on the 2006 Alabama Crimson Tide. During Arkansas's nine game winning streak, Alabama gave them their best game but also lost to a dismal Mississippi State squad. The same team that played Tennessee down to the final play of the game also allowed Duke to rush for more than 200 yards.
Auburn sacked Brodie Croyle 11 times last season. However, Wilson has the mobility to move in and out of the pocket.
Wilson has played very well this season considering the issues Alabama has experienced at offensive line and the lack of a consistent running game. Wilson has passed for 2,287 yards and 14 touchdowns, completing 57.5 percent of passes. Wide receiver D.J. Hall has been his primary target with 56 receptions for 999 yards and five touchdowns. Hall will become only the second receiver to reach the 1,000-yard mark at the University of Alabama.
Tailback Kenneth Darby leads the Crimson Tide in rushing once again, but has struggled to total 772 yards on the season. Running backs Jimmy Johns and Tim Castille have combined for 354 yards and six rushing touchdowns this year. Wide receiver Keith Brown re-injured his knee against LSU and is questionable for the Auburn game.
Linebacker Juwan Simpson leads the Tide with 70 tackles on the season and fellow backer Prince Hall has totaled 66 stops, including 9.5 plays behind the line. Cornerback Simeon Castille is having a good year with 61 tackles and five interceptions. In terms of applying pressure on the opposing quarterback, the Tide defense has only 10 sacks through 11 games.
On special teams Leigh Tiffin and Jamie Christensen have combined for 19 field goals, but they have missed nine, which have been crucial in several ball games. Javier Arenas handles most of the return duties for Alabama, averaging 6.6 yards on punt returns and 19.7 yards on kick returns.
Keys to the game…
In the last 19 meetings between the two schools the team with the most rushing yards at the end of the game has won 17. Establishing the run will be essential for both teams because both quarterbacks have struggled when placed in obvious passing situations.
Auburn averages 157.8 yards rushing per game compared to Alabama's 125.4 yards per game on the ground. The Crimson Tide defense allows 117.2 yards rushing while the Tigers surrender 127.1 yards. The running game appears to be in favor of the Auburn Tigers.
Darby, a senior, has 33 carries for just 109 yards and no scores in his career against Auburn.
Brandon Cox might hold the edge in game experience, but Wilson has been able to deliver the big pass play for the Alabama offense. Comparing the quarterbacks against the five common opponents this season, Cox has a slight edge with a 126.8 rating to Wilson's 125.4 rating. A closer look at the LSU and Arkansas games swings the quarterback match up back in favor of Wilson. Cox had a combined 263 yards passing for only one touchdown, while Wilson passed for 534 yards and five touchdowns against Arkansas and LSU.
If neither team can establish an edge in the running game, the performance of both quarterbacks could decide the outcome of the game. Auburn's defense has 25 sacks on the season to Alabama's 10, but the Tide defense has intercepted 15 passes to the Tigers eight. Auburn has allowed 27 sacks on the season and Alabama has given up 24 so both teams have struggled protecting their quarterbacks.
Looking for trends in the last four games, Auburn has turned the ball over 11 times on offense while Alabama has turned the ball over four times in the its last four games. The Auburn defense has forced 10 turnovers to Alabama's six. Auburn has allowed four sacks to Alabama's nine and the Tiger defense has sacked the opposing quarterback six times to the Crimson Tide's four.
Wilson is a mobile quarterback and the Auburn defense has struggled with the spread option this season. I would not be surprised to see coach Mike Shula take advantage of Auburn's inability to defend the spread option. Look for Alabama to run from this formation on several offensive series.
Cox completed 14-21 passes for 118 yards, two touchdowns and had no interceptions in last year's 28-18 over Alabama.
Based on the performance by both teams in their last game, Alabama is a lock to win this game. Of course it would be absurd to throw out the remaining regular season games when evaluating both squads. Alabama should have defeated Arkansas while Auburn was never really in the game against the Razorbacks. Auburn defeated Florida while Alabama collapsed in the final period against the Gators. Both teams struggled during their victories over Ole Miss, though Auburn did more to make its game closer with the Rebels.
Auburn dominated Mississippi State in comparison to the embarrassing loss by Alabama. Auburn edged out a defensive battle with LSU, while the Crimson Tide fell again despite playing well on offense. Looking at the common opponents, Auburn is the better overall team and should be favored on paper.
I've used scoring margins through out the season to forecast the outcome of each Auburn game. Auburn should win this game, 21-15 based on overall scoring margins. On the season, Auburn is +4 on offense and –9 on defense with an average score of 26-14. Alabama is +2 on offense and –6 on defense with an average score of 23-18. The numbers clearly indicate a very close ball game.
Based on the five common opponents and the scoring margins from each of those games, Auburn should win, 24-10. Looking at the scoring margins from the last three ball games, Alabama wins, 21-19. Once again, we're back to another close ball game, which would be typical of a classic Iron Bowl. Bottom line, despite what the overall win and loss record might indicate, the statistics and scoring margins point to a very close match up.
Emotions will run high at the start of the ball game simply because it's the biggest game of the year for both teams in terms of the rivalry. What is the mindset of both teams coming into the game? For Auburn, it watched its national and conference title hopes snatched away after the Arkansas game. Despite not clicking on all cylinders, they managed to crawl back into the championship hunt only to have Georgia embarrass them at home.
For Alabama, there was never really serious talk of winning the conference much less a national championship in 2006. Its previous season of close calls resulting in victories has turned into disappointing defeats in 2006. For what it's worth, Auburn still has something more to play for in terms of a better bowl game and an opportunity to win 10 or 11 games this season. Will the Auburn players respond and focus on what there is left to fight for or will they ponder lost opportunities? This more than anything else will decide the outcome of the Iron Bowl. We hear it all the time, most recently after the Georgia game. The Bulldogs simply played like they wanted the game more and Auburn did not.
There are no more excuses left for either team. Both teams have played 11 games in a row and have suffered through injuries this season. Auburn and Alabama have youth at critical positions, but everyone will be held accountable for the biggest game of the year.
Auburn 17, Alabama 13