StatTiger: Analyzing the Iron Bowl

Stuart Carter (StatTiger) breaks down the 72nd Iron Bowl.

Alabama Crimson Tide (6-5 Overall, 4-3 SEC)

Offensive NumbersYards Per GameNational Rank
Points:28.4 points57th
Defensive NumbersYards Per GameNational Rank
Points:22.3 points31st

Record Against Auburn: 38-32-1
During Tuberville Era: 2-6

The University of Alabama made national headlines with the hiring of Nick Saban prior to the 2007 season. By making Saban the highest paid college football coach, Alabama supporters are hoping Saban can work the same magic he did while at LSU. Though there have been some signs of improvement, Alabama finds itself at 6-5, the identical record it possessed entering last season's Iron Bowl.

It would be foolish to believe Saban could turn the Crimson Tide program around in one year, but they are bowl eligible and a victory over Auburn this coming Saturday would certainly put a better spin on an average season. Make no mistake about it, Alabama officials shelled out four million dollars a year for Saban to rebuild their program and to end Auburn's current five-game winning streak.

Last time out...

Alabama might be coming off one of its most embarrassing losses during the modern era of college football. Last Saturday Alabama was a near 30-point favorite to dispose of Louisiana-Monroe, but ended up being shut out during the second half and eventually losing 21-14. Plagued by turnovers and an uninspired performance by the team, Alabama fell to 6-5, extending its losing streak to three games.

Auburn was fortunate to have a bye-week after enduring a major collapse to the Georgia Bulldogs in the final period of the game. The Tigers rallied from a 17-3 deficit to take a 20-17 lead in the third period, but Georgia exploded with 28 unanswered points to crush Auburn 45-20. The Auburn coaching staff is hoping the extra week off will be a quick remedy going into the Iron Bowl.

About Alabama...

At one point this season Alabama was 6-2 and coming off an impressive victory against the Tennessee Volunteers. It appeared the Crimson Tide was poised to make their move in the Western Division but they fell short to LSU, followed by an upset loss to Mississippi State and a huge upset defeat to Louisiana-Monroe. For various reasons, Alabama has found itself unable to finish a game, with victory so close yet so far away.

Quarterback John Parker Wilson has been a primary reason for Alabama's offensive success, but his costly interceptions have also led to Alabama's demise. On the season, Wilson has thrown for 2,477 yards and 15 touchdown passes. Wilson is clearly on his way to rewriting many school records, but his 10 interceptions are a principal reason for Alabama's five losses. Wide receiver D.J. Hall continues to be one of the most lethal receivers in the conference, hauling in 60 passes for 918 yards.

Running back Terry Grant has recently been hobbled by injuries, but he has accumulated 891 yards on the ground along with eight rushing touchdowns. Grant has registered five games of more than 90-yards rushing this season and he must play a pivotal role for Alabama to win this Saturday. The Alabama coaching staff received good news this past week with Glen Coffee returning from a team suspension. Coffee has missed the last four games but has managed 413 yards rushing.

Safety Rashad Johnson currently leads the Tide in tackles with 76 on the season and six interceptions. Defensive end Wallace Gilberry is second on the team with 69 stops, including 22 behind the line of scrimmage. As a unit, Alabama's defense has 77 tackles behind the line, which includes 21 quarterback sacks good seventh in the conference. The Alabama defense is 33rd in the nation against the run, 54th in pass defense and 33rd in total defense.

Punter, P.J. Fitzgerald has struggled this season with a 38.5 average per punt, which is 94th nationally. Javier Arenas was injured last week and is expected to miss the Auburn game. This is a huge blow to the Alabama special teams with Arenas being the Tide's featured return specialist. Place kicker Leigh Tiffin has connected on 21 of 29 field goals this season.

About Auburn...

The Auburn Tiger offense has continued to struggle for the second straight season and is currently ranked at 101st in the nation in total offense and 76th in scoring offense. The Auburn running game has averaged a respectable 153 yards per game, led by Ben Tate with 779 yards. Mario Fannin and Brad Lester have also combined for more than 800-yards rushing, but Fannin has seen limited action since the return of Lester.

Lester and the Auburn offense will need to pick up the pace against the Tide.

Many expected Brandon Cox to have a big senior campaign, but the three-year starter has stumbled through rough times in 2007. On the season Cox has thrown for 1,752 yards and nine touchdowns, but he has also thrown 11 interceptions. He will make his final start at Jordan-Hare Stadium this Saturday night and a solid performance by Cox might be the ticket to a sixth straight victory over Alabama. Rod Smith is having a sound season with 45 receptions, but Auburn has struggled stretching opposing defenses vertically.

The Auburn defense enters the final regular season game with six defenders with at least 47 tackles on the season. Linebacker Chris Evans leads the team with 59 and Antonio Coleman is the leader in tackles behind the line with 17. The Tigers have totaled 63 stops behind the opponent's line of scrimmage, which is ninth in the Southeastern Conference. Auburn is No. 11 in the country in total defense and No. 7 in scoring defense. The Auburn defense is No. 13 in the country allowing a touchdown every 32.7 plays, which is No. 1 in the conference. Auburn's opponents have averaged 4.66 yards per play, 21st in the nation and No. 2 in the SEC.

Ryan Shoemaker enters the game averaging more 44 yards per punt, which is No. 13 in the country. Wes Byrum is closer to being 100 percent, which should benefit the Tigers in the kicking game. The freshman kicker has connected on 15 of 19 field goals this season and his return to kickoff duties is much needed. Tristan Davis is a possibility back on the field but his long layoff due to a broken bone in his foot might have slow him.

Final Thoughts...

Alabama's loss to Louisiana-Monroe was shocking to say the least, but it's almost certain the same Alabama team will not show up at Jordan-Hare on Saturday night. The Auburn faithful might be wise to expect the same Alabama team that throttled Tennessee and the same one that was one play away of upsetting LSU. It's been a crazy year for college football and I cannot recall as many major upsets in one season over the last 25 years. When it comes to the Iron Bowl, Alabama has pulled the upset more often than Auburn.

Both teams have struggled on offense this season and turnovers have resulted in heart-breaking losses for both squads. Wilson and Cox have taken most of the criticism for their teams' offensive woes, but Alabama's passing game has proven it can be dangerous. The running games are virtually even with Alabama averaging 154 yards to Auburn's 153. Because of Alabama's receivers and Wilson's big play potential, the edge on offense goes to the Crimson Tide.

On the other side of the ball, Auburn has the better defense, which has been a deciding factor in this series. For the most part, the team with the better running game and defense has won the Iron Bowl. The probable return of linebacker Craig Stevens to the lineup could give Quentin Groves more opportunities at end and should make the Tiger defense closer to hitting on all cylinders. The primary reason for Auburn's current five-game winning streak in the Iron Bowl has been the performance of the Tiger defense. In the last five meetings, Alabama has averaged 85 yards rushing, 290 yards in total offense and 15 points per game.

Can Groves be a game-changer again this year in the Iron Bowl?

Looking back at the last 20 Iron Bowls, the most common theme for success has been the running game. The team with the most rushing yards is 18-2 and both teams have combined for a 16-1 record with at least 40 rush attempts. When held to under 100 yards rushing, both teams have combined for a 2-11 record. As sophisticated as the game has become, this series has been defined with defense and conservative play on offense. Establishing the run and stopping the other from doing the same has normally translated to a victory.

Tossing out the games against the weaker opponents and the scoring margins point to an Alabama victory, 21-20. Auburn is 7-4 on the season and Alabama is 6-5 so a close game should be expected. Both teams lost to Mississippi State by five and had close victories over Arkansas. Auburn crushed Vanderbilt, while Alabama struggled for the most part against the Commodores, but Alabama lost to Georgia in overtime while Auburn was blown out. Both teams came close to defeating LSU only to lose in the closing minutes of the game. Auburn didn't crush Ole Miss and Alabama was fortunate to defeat the Rebels.

There is rain in the forecast for Saturday, which could slow down the pace of the game. In this heated rivalry, the most common cliché is "Throw out the records because either team could win this game." In this case, both fan bases would love to toss out their win and loss records. The focus should be on the intangibles. I like Auburn playing at night, especially in the orange sea of Jordan-Hare. I also like Auburn having the "veteran" Iron Bowl coach in Tommy Tuberville, who by the way is 6-2 against Alabama. The last seven senior quarterbacks to start for Auburn have beaten Alabama. With both offenses struggling in the last few weeks, the smart guess would be on the better defensive team.

Because Auburn is 10-5 in its last 15 conference games, averaging 20 points per game while allowing 17, a low-scoring game should be expected. On paper, Auburn is the better team and the better team normally wins this game.

Auburn 20, Alabama 17

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