The conventional wisdom for this game lines up two ways:
* Auburn is a team of destiny and their destiny is to beat Alabama, to knock them from their perch, and ascend to the top of the SEC West and beyond.
* Alabama has better players, has more players, those players have more big-game experience and are well-coached.
In other words, the results and statistics for the season point to Alabama winning rather convincingly, but Auburn is playing at home and is playing with a lot of confidence and could perhaps pull off an upset.
I would expect two main things from Auburn: 1) a quick start on offense; and 2) do what they can to make the game short.
A quick start helps on the scoreboard and also helps generate confidence. Seeing how Auburn hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown against Alabama since 2010, I’m sure Gus Malzahn will want to do this quickly.
And any time you’re an underdog, you want to shorten the game. You’ve heard it said before, but coaches just want to get the game to their underdog to the fourth quarter and then see what happens. I would expect the same from Malzahn.
From Alabama’s perspective, I think the keys to game are: 1) offensive tempo; 2) turnovers; and 3) making Auburn’s offense one-dimensional.
To open the game defensively, Auburn will load the box and play frantically on the edges. If Doug Nussmeier can navigate a few first downs to start the game and get the offense into a good rhythm, look out, folks, Alabama will have a big day. If not, the Tide will have to grind a while before pulling away late.
Turnovers even games. If the ‘Bama offense doesn’t turn the ball over – no matter where or when – you have to feel pretty good about a win. Auburn has a middle-of-the-pack defense in the bend-but-don’t-break mold. If we don’t turn the ball over, Auburn’s defense should wear out in the second half.
I expect Auburn to move the ball and score some. They execute well and play with a lot of confidence. But, like any other game, Alabama’s defense feasts when they make their opponents one-dimensional. Against Auburn, that means slowing the running game and forcing third-and-long situations. Nick Marshall may have some success in the passing game and convert some of those scenarios, but that’s clearly not where Auburn wants to operate. They want third-and-three and they want to keep moving the chains. You have to believe the Tide defense, led by C.J. Mosley, will slow Auburn from their normal pace.
In the end, I think Alabama grinds out a 31-21 win and moves on to Atlanta.