As the Tigers are coming off of a three-game skid, they face a daunting match-up with the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide coming into town for the 86th Iron Bowl.
Over the past five seasons, the home team has come out victorious in the yearly match-up. Auburn coach Bryan Harsin is hoping to see that trend continue in his first experience of one of the top rivalries in college football.
“I’m excited to coach in this game,” Harsin said. “This is one of the reasons why I wanted to be at Auburn.”
Auburn’s first-year head coach may not have coached in the big game yet, but he has already seen firsthand what the rivalry means to Auburn fans.
“The first question I was asked after I did my press conference on Christmas Eve was about the Iron Bowl, which I think at that time was about 340 days away,” Harsin said. “So, here we are. That’s one of the things that personally I look back on … that made it very clear how important this is.”
The Tigers are coming off of a stretch where they have suffered consecutive losses to Texas A&M, Mississippi State and South Carolina. In all of those games, a constant issue has been offensive efficiency in the second half. Against the Bulldogs and Gamecocks, the Tigers jumped out to double digit leads — 25 points and 14 points, respectively — before letting the opposing team come back and win.
“At the end of the game, you want to be clutch,” Harsin said. “I think we started somewhat fast in some games … We’re not finishing in games. I know we can finish better.
“If we made it happen in the first half, we can make it happen in the second half.”
On the other side, the Crimson Tide are coming into this match-up with a 10-1 record and riding a five-game winning streak. The Alabama offense, led by quarterback Bryce Young, has the capability to score at any time, averaging an SEC-high 44.4 points per game.
“He’s tough,” said Harsin of Young. “He’s stood in the pocket, taken hits, delivered balls and been accurate.”
The Tigers will need to rely on their defense, which has played well throughout the season. The Tigers have the fourth-best scoring defense in the SEC, allowing an average of 22 points per game. This defense has been characterized by a bend-don’t-break approach, allowing touchdowns on only 52.3 percent of red zone appearances. Auburn will have to be able to get pressure on Young to throw him off of his game.
“The thing that stands out is the way these guys play, and the consistency that they play with and it's hard to do that week in and week out,” Harsin said.
It will require a complete game if the Tigers hope to pull off the upset over Alabama. With backup quarterback T.J. Finley at the helm, it will take an all-out team effort on Saturday in Jordan-Hare.
“The quarterback position in general, and what we try to help our guys understand, is how you get yourself ready to play,” Harsin said. “He's got to continue to keep working through that knowing that he's going to be starting in this game. He played in the last one. There's some good things in there, and just things that we've got to be much better at.”
Auburn and Alabama will square off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game will be televised on CBS.