So according to USA Today, Alabama will roll into Auburn this week as 21 point favorites.
Clearly the the Tide has the better team this year and outside of the Auburn faithful, there’s not many folks predicting an upset.
But upsets do happen. Just ask Oklahoma State.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik has made it clear that he knows what the deal is:
Auburn knows what Alabama is up to. What Alabama will do, and indeed what will be the theme of Saturday’s Alabama-Auburn game, is “pretty much 200-year-old football,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
“They have about four running plays, and they are going to ask you to stop it,” Chizik said, “and there’s not many that have.”
Professor Chizik may not have his dates exactly right, but I think we all get the point. Alabama is Alabama and you know what’s coming.
So they know what’s coming, but how do they stop it? How can Auburn pull the upset? What would it look like if they could? Well, let’s take a look.
1) Cliches- They’re old and they’re tired, but they still apply so let’s get them out of the way. Auburn has to play close to perfectly on both sides of the ball, plus special teams, and has to win the turnover battle. They are cliches, but to pull a major upset, you need these things to happen.
2) Offensively, the Tigers have to find a way to run the ball. You’ve probably heard some blathering stats this week about how the teams that beat Alabama have to run the ball. That’s pretty much true. For Auburn to run the ball, the Tigers will have to utilize Michael Dyer better than they did against Georgia. He’s their best weapon on offense and they’ll need him to carry the load. He’ll need something that resembles the 41 carry, 141 yard masterpiece he displayed against South Carolina. Note that in that game, he only averaged 3.4 yards per carry, but do the math and you’ll realize that’s enough to move the chains. For Dyer to have this sort of game, the offensive line will need to have their best game of the year against a Tide front seven that includes Josh Chapman, Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. If the Tigers can muster any sort of running game, it will help take the heat off of quarterback Clint Moseley. Against South Carolina, Auburn ran the ball 67 times and the Gamecocks simply could not get their defense off of the field and let the Tigers hold the ball for almost 36 minutes.
3) Defensively, expect the Tigers to sell out to stop the run and, like others have tried, attempt to put the bulk of the Tide offense onto sophomore AJ McCarron’s shoulders. Can they do this and not get burned on both fronts? I dunno. Statistics say they’ll have a hard time. The Tigers rank 10th in the conference in stopping the run while the Tide ranks 1st in rushing offense. Tide running back Trent Richardson is tops in the conference with 1,380 rushing yards and has scored 20 touchdowns on the ground. Meanwhile, Auburn also ranks 12th defending the pass, while Alabama has the 4th best passing offense in the league. McCarron’s passer rating is 4th in the league at 146.51 and he’s third in the league with 201.5 yards per game. He also averages a decent 8.2 yards per attempt. The Tigers held Marcus Lattimore to 66 yards on 17 rushes and benefited from four Gamecock turnovers and limited Stephen Garcia to only nine completions in 23 passes with two interceptions. That’s the model Auburn needs to follow in order to have a chance to beat Alabama.
Easily laid out, but not easily accomplished.
In reality, though, Auburn won’t need to completely shut down Richardson or McCarron. But they will need to play well enough offensively and defensively to keep the game close for a while and to give themselves a boost of confidence. As the old saying goes, if they can keep the game close until the fourth quarter, hey, anything can happen.
To be honest, I don’t know how Auburn can accomplish all of this. Again, stranger things have happened – we’re looking at you, Iowa State, but statistically, it looks like a long road. When you factor in revenge and the stakes of this year’s game, it makes things even tougher for the Tigers.