In this season’s previous November rivalry football game at Jordan-Hare Stadium vs. the Georgia Bulldogs the defenses dominated much of the contest. When the Tigers and Tide play on Saturday here in Auburn, don’t be surprised if there are a lot more points scored than was the case in Georgia’s 21-14 victory.
The most obvious reason to expect that is because Alabama’s offense, even without injured quarterback Tua Tagovailo, is significantly better than Georgia’s. The Tide’s top four receivers are about as good as it gets as a college football group, while big back Najee Harris is a big threat as a receiver as well as a runner.
Alabama redshirt sophomore quarterback Mac Jones, who will be throwing passes to Devonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy and others, has the exact same completion percentage (72.4) as Tagovailo produced this season before being injured vs. Mississippi State. Auburn’s defense will be tested in a major way this week even though Alabama is missing its No. 1 QB.
Fortunately for Auburn, the Tide’s defense isn’t playing at the level of what Georgia is doing on that side of the line of scrimmage so there should be opportunities for the home team to move the football on Saturday and score more points than it did vs. the Bulldogs. Alabama has plenty of defensive talent, but several of the key guys are inexperienced. Taking that into consideration, it makes sense for the Tigers to be more aggressive than usual when they have the football.
Gus Malzahn would be smart to come out in attack mode with his play calling. Alabama’s defense has had issues with teams that play up-tempo offensively and are good enough to be a threat both running and passing. Auburn quarterback Bo Nix thrives in that type of situation so it makes sense for his head coach and play-caller to turn him loose.
Yes, Nix is a true freshman playing in his first Iron Bowl, but he has 11 starts under his belt and is a lot better prepared to have a strong performance than he was earlier in the season.
It is especially important to let Nix do what he does best considering that he has a large number of talented receivers on his side. Throw in the fact that Auburn’s offensive line is better at pass protection than it is at run blocking and it makes sense to attack through the air first and then run the football when the defense is in a stop-the-pass frame of mind.
There are plenty of reasons to feel good about the way Auburn’s defense has played this season, particularly limiting LSU’s high-powered offense to 23 points. Auburn’s defenders have talked about leaving a strong legacy. If those guys have a great game against a team that is tied with LSU for the league scoring lead at a gaudy 48.5 points per game, that will be a major step towards reaching their goal.
Auburn’s offense is a distant third in the SEC for scoring, averaging 32.7 points per game, but against the top defenses the Tigers have faced this season they haven’t reached 30 points. That is a number the Tigers may need to reach or pass to have a good chance of defeating their in-state rival so they can reach their re-adjusted goal of winning 10 games and earning a prestigious bowl trip.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter