Written By: Ryan Lippert
With the college football regular season wrapping up this weekend, we have some very exciting rivalry games to look forward to. One of the biggest games among those rivalries comes from two in-state rivals in the Southeastern Conference. The Auburn Tigers will be looking to play spoiler on Saturday as they host the Alabama Crimson Tide in this year’s Iron Bowl. While Auburn is looking to simply finish their regular season on a high note and get in a good bowl game, there is much more on the line for the Crimson Tide. Alabama must win this game if they want to stay in the discussion for the College Football Playoff as they are currently sitting at fifth in the rankings. With all of this in mind, let’s take a deeper look at this week’s SEC Game of the Week between the Auburn Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide.
Can Mac Jones Handle the Pressure?
While Alabama has a very talented team from top to bottom, their season will likely rest in the hands of one player in particular. Following the season-ending injury to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide will now look to back up quarterback Mac Jones to put them in position to make the playoff. Jones has been solid when called on so far this season, completing 71.43% of his passes for 841 yards, seven touchdowns, and only one interception. He is in a very good situation as he has the best wide receiver core in the country to throw to, which includes Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III, and Jaylen Waddle. Smith has led the group this year with 60 receptions for 1,120 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Jones will face his toughest test this year against a very talented Auburn defense. Fortunately for him, their weakness has been against the pass. Auburn’s secondary has allowed 196.91 passing yards per game and 14 total passing touchdowns while coming away with seven interceptions so far this season.
While their passing game has been solid this season, Jones will likely need some help from the running game this weekend. Running back Najee Harris has had a great season so far as he leads the Crimson Tide with 942 rushing yards and ten touchdowns so far. Harris will face a very good Auburn front seven that is led by defensive tackle Derrick Brown and defensive end Marlon Davidson. Their defense has allowed 109.6 rushing yards per game and eight total rushing touchdowns so far.
Will Bo Nix & Co. Spoil Alabama’s Season
As I have said several times this season, a lot of Auburn’s success can be credited to the surprising breakout season for freshman quarterback Bo Nix. Nix has been outstanding so far, completing 57.63% of his passes for 2,193 yards, 14 touchdowns, and six interceptions. His top target has been sophomore wide receiver Seth Williams who leads the Tigers with 52 receptions for 735 yards and eight touchdowns so far.
Nix will be facing a very talented Alabama secondary this weekend that has allowed 184.36 passing yards per game with 13 total passing touchdowns while coming away with 15 interceptions so far. Their defense has two future NFL corners in senior Trevon Diggs and sophomore Patrick Surtain II. They are joined by junior free safety Xavier McKinney who could have his name called in the first two rounds this year and senior strong safety Jared Mayden who leads the team with four interceptions.
With this Alabama secondary being so good, the Tigers will be looking for running back JaTarvious Whitlow to get going. Whitlow leads Auburn in rushing with 625 yards and nine touchdowns so far. His back up D.J. Williams has also found some success with 371 yards and two touchdowns of his own. They will be facing an Alabama defense that has struggled at times against the run, allowing 130.9 rushing yards per game and seven total rushing touchdowns so far this season.
I strongly believe that this game has a chance to be a very close one. With the game being at Auburn, this will be a huge test for Jones as this crowd will be the loudest he has ever played against. However, I think he deals with the pressure well and makes the plays that will be needed to keep Alabama in this game. For Auburn, I see this being a big game for Whitlow and the run game as this Alabama secondary will make things very hard on Nix. I see both defenses making big plays to keep this game very close but the talent of Alabama will take over late. I have the Crimson Tide hanging on to win this one 28-24 to keep their playoff hopes alive.