Alabama – Auburn: More Postgame Thoughts

Last week I took a look a what Auburn had to do vs. Bama to win and, likewise, what the Tide had to do to win.  In the aftermath of Bama’s 42-14 thumping of the Tigers let’s take a look back and see how close I came to reality.

What Auburn Had to do to Win

It was a given that the Tigers needed to execute flawlessly, play special on special teams and win the turnover battle.  Two out of three usually isn’t bad, but in this case it didn’t help much.  Auburn created a huge first half turnover that resulted in a touchdown and returned the second half kickoff for a touchdown.  Plays like that are key ingredients for an upset, but in Auburn’s case those were their only two highlights.

Offensively, the Tigers needed to run the ball.  I thought they would try to mimic Michael Dyer’s 41 tote performance against South Carolina, but that didn’t happen.  In fact, that project never got started.  Dyer carried the ball only twice in the first 12 plays – while Auburn was still in the game.  He finished with 13 carries for 48 yards, most of those coming in garbage time, though.

Defensively, I thought Auburn would load up to stop the run and put the game into AJ McCarron’s hands.  That’s not a novel idea.  That’s what most teams try to do.  Auburn failed and failed spectacularly.  McCarron finished 18 of 23 for 186 yards and three touchdowns, with all three scores coming in the first half.  Heisman contender Trent Richardson finished what McCarron started by rushing 27 time for a career-high 203 yards.  That’s a gaudy 7.5 yards per pop.

Overall, I thought the Auburn game plan – offensively and defensively – was poor.  Offensively, the Tigers were conservative and predictable.  Gus Malzahn slowed his fast break offense down to a snail’s pace in an attempt to slow the game, but lacked any sort of originality in creating a running game.  I know that would have been asking Malzahn to do something no other team has done this year, but his failure to utilize Dyer in the early going and insistence on using two quarterbacks – each in obvious situations – hurt any sort of chance the Tigers may have had.  Defensively, the Tigers best player was the “12th man.”  The crowd noise helped create a false start penalty on the Tide’s first play of the game, but that was the defensive highlight of the day for the Tigers.

What Alabama Had to do to Win

The Tide had to know that Auburn would load up to stop the run.  So the only question was whether Alabama would attack by air or by land:

In Auburn’s case, if they load the box to shut down the running game, they leave themselves very, very exposed with their secondary – a secondary that ranks dead-last in the SEC defending the pass.

So let me say this:  I will not be surprised if Saban turns the game over to McCarron from the beginning.  McCarron has played well this year and, statistically, Auburn just isn’t very good against the pass.  If McCarron can pass, Richardson will eventually run wild.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out, but this is basically what happened.  It was simply a matter of Auburn picking their poison and Nick Saban deciding which way to administer it:

The Alabama game plan won’t simply be to respond to what the Tigers do offensively and defensively.  Nick Saban likes for his teams to dominate the competition by imposing their will.  Sometimes that may be by blunt force trauma – i.e. via Trent Richardson and the running game.  Other times that may mean making you pay by attacking your weakness.

Other than the McCarron fumble and the kickoff return, this game went 100% according to the Tide’s game plan.  With the stakes involved, the revenge factor and simply because this is a rivalry game, Auburn didn’t ever realistically have a chance.