2014 Iron Bowl Preview

Good morning! Happy day after Thanksgiving! I love being off the Friday after a holiday. It’s like a snow day except you can actually do stuff, unless your stuff involves driving near a shopping center. My stuff does not.

Today is really about one thing; getting ready for the Iron Bowl tomorrow. You got to do what you do in order to be where you need to be so that your contribution brings a positive impact for your team in the game, aight? (I said that in my Nick Saban voice, complete with hand gestures.) But really, people all over Alabama are killing time today shopping or putting up Christmas decorations, but their minds are on tomorrow. So, lets look at the 2014 Iron Bowl.

This is, perhaps as much as any Iron Bowl in recent history, a fairly even match-up. Both teams have played to potential in games this season, and both teams have looked incredibly out of sorts in games this season. Alabama struggled to a one-point win at Arkansas – which doesn’t look quite as bad now as it did at the time, but still it looks plenty bad – and Auburn was dismantled by a spotty Texas A&M team at Jordan-Hare. Both teams lack consistency and that makes the game so difficult to predict. But I’ll try.

The Game Plan
For both teams, the ability to run the ball is the basis of the offense. If you can reasonably expect to get 4, 5, 6 yards or more each time you run the ball, that just opens up an offensive playground for you and a nightmare for your opponent. I don’t think that either team wants the outcome of the game to come down to their ability to pass the ball consistently and effectively. That’s a bit of a bummer for both sides, because both teams are suspect in the defensive backfield, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Line vs. Line
I think this is, as with most close games, the key to the matchup. Auburn’s offensive line is better than Alabama’s offensive front, but Alabama’s defensive front is better than Auburn’s defensive front, so it’s an even match-up, right? I think it’s a pretty even match-up along the front lines.

I don’t know if Alabama can hold the Auburn running game to fewer than 200 yards. That’s a mighty task. Alabama’s goal will be to bend but not break against an impressive stable of Auburn running backs. At some point, Alabama will need to string together a couple of 1st and 2nd down stops to put Auburn in 3rd a long situations. This, however, puts Alabama in a difficult situation because of Nick Marshall’s ability to run the ball. It will be hard to stop him from running for 7 or 8 yards and picking up the first down if Auburn spreads the field and opens up the Alabama defense. The front of the Auburn offense vs. the front of the Alabama defense is a good match-up. That will be fun to watch.

The Alabama offensive front vs. anyone’s defensive front can be incredibly frustrating for Alabama fans. I don’t know if the running game, for all of the highly touted running backs, has hit its stride this year. Alabama’s offense is set up to be a balanced attack.  In several games this season, however, Alabama has abandoned the running game due to its ineffectiveness and relied solely on the passing game – with mixed results.

Again, I don’t think either team wants this game to come down to passing, which is unfortunate because…

Receivers vs. Defensive Backs
Both receiving corps are better than the defensive backfields. With a strong passing game, Amari Cooper could have 200 receiving yards against this Auburn defensive backfield. Likewise, Duke Williams and Sammy Coates could rack up big yards against Alabama’s cornerbacks. Where the offensive line vs. defensive line match-ups are good vs. good, the receivers vs. defensive backs match-ups are very good vs. “oh no, oh no, OH NO!” That is to say, the offense has the advantage.

The quarterbacks, however, haven’t shown themselves to be proficient passers. Each is much more comfortable running the ball. Each would like to roll-out, have a receiver run off the cornerback, and then the QB tuck the ball and run for 12 yards. The team that can stop that play can win this game.

While the ability to run the ball should open up the passing game, the offense has to keep it open by completing passes. Otherwise, the defense is going to focus on stopping the run. Who can make the passes? I don’t know.

Special Teams
You’re not going to win a game by punting the ball, but Alabama’s punter has come up huge this year by flipping the field on Alabama opponents. If Alabama can get to its own 35-yard line before its drive stalls, there’s a pretty fair chance that Auburn will start its drive inside its own 20-yard line. AJ Scott is that type of defensive weapon for Alabama.

The rumor is that Adam Griffith, Alabama’s placekicker, has a back injury and will not play. Based on Alabama’s field goal experience, that’s not a huge loss for the Tide. Fact is, Auburn fans love to watch Alabama attempt field goals. It’s like watching a cat try to catch a laser light tracing across the floor and wall. You’re never going to catch that light, silly cat. Maybe Griffith’s injury will keep Alabama from doing something crazy, like attempting a 60-yard field goal.

I’m sure that Auburn has a punter and a placekicker, and they’ll probably come up huge for Auburn tomorrow and be major factors in the game, but – unless Wes Bynum is still there – I honestly don’t know who they are and can’t begin to comment on how they may play a role in the game. Sorry guys.

Who Will Win
The team with the fewest turnovers, unless that team is Alabama, and then it is the team that squanders the fewest scoring opportunities. I think that points will be at a premium, so even field goals are wins for the offense. You’ve got to score points, even if it’s just three points, when you have the chance.

I don’t gamble on games so take this for what it’s worth. I think that Auburn +9.5 points is Vegas trying to hand you free green money. I think that it’s a close game, within 4 or 5 points, regardless of the winner.

I can’t believe that I’m writing this, but I think the game depends on how beaten up Alabama is after the Western Carolina game. Amari Cooper was injured. Ardarius Stewart, a favorite target of Blake Sims after Cooper went out, also injured his knee. Vogler’s out. At one point during the Western Carolina game last week, Alabama’s Jalston Fowler and Cam Robinson were both laid out on the field, motionless like that Saddam Hussein statue. I half expected an Iraqi woman to run on the field and hit them with her sandal. (Don’t send me any email, that’s a funny visual.) This Alabama team is riddled with late season injuries. TJ Yeldon didn’t play against Western Carolina and, as mentioned earlier, Adam Giffith is out. Meanwhile, Auburn’s Duke Williams will play tomorrow, which is huge for Auburn as Alabama has no one who can cover him.

My Prediction
I really think that Auburn has a great chance to win this game and probably should win this game which, as anyone who follows the Iron Bowl knows, means Alabama 20 – Auburn 18.

Have a good day. Enjoy the game. Be nice. And, go Blazers! This is a post for another day, but a strong UAB means a strong Birmingham, and a strong Birmingham means a strong Alabama.

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