SEC heavyweights clash on Saturday in the annual Iron Bowl, as No. 5 Alabama (10-1, 6-1 SEC) travels to take on the No. 15 Auburn Tigers (8-3, 4-3), as the Crimson Tide attempt to hang onto their dissolving chances at a College Football Playoff berth.
Alabama hits the road, after having destroyed a vastly undermanned Western Carolina, 66-3, last Saturday. Making his first start, QB Mac Jones went 12 for 15 with 275 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers come high on confidence after a 52-0 win over Samford, who they held to 144 yards with four turnovers.
Make no mistake, numbers and stats aside, the reality is that the Crimson Tide have to beat the Tigers to stay in College Football Playoff picture. With Tua Tagovailoa out for the season with a severe hip injury, Nick Saban will lean on redshirt sophomore Jones, who hasn’t been in the fire, getting most of his minutes against weaker opponents or in blowouts.
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Alabama vs. Auburn: What to watch for
The key will be whether Auburn can score enough points. Given it’s not reasonable to believe QB Bo Nix is going to turn into a high-flying act, the 14th-ranked defense will have to shine. This means getting the Crimson Tide offense off the field on third down—where Auburn shines, sitting at eighth in the nation in third-down defense.
Auburn will have one other advantage in Alabama’s offensive simplification. The entire playbook was previously available with Tagovailoa, who could make all the throws. Jones will be tested, with the knowledge Gus Malzahn will want to take away any semblance of a Tide run game.
Even still, Auburn will need to score at least 24 points to keep the pace, which will be a tall order against a talented Alabama defense.
Holding the chalk line, Alabam is a 3.5-point favorite on the road, according to Odds Shark. This is a toss-up, and Auburn will play with almost no pressure and everything to gain, given its only goal is to completely ruin their rival’s season.