With Alabama’s 49-0 drubbing of the Western Carolina Catamounts Saturday, the stage is now set for the Crimson Tide to take on the Auburn Tigers in what is now the most important game of the season in the state of Alabama: the Iron Bowl.
The game, which already holds huge implications for both teams, has now grown even larger for the Tide, who, with a win, will earn the SEC Western Division championship and represent the West in the SEC Championship in Atlanta, Ga.
What’s more, after the top two teams in the nation lost Saturday – No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon – Alabama is right back in the title hunt after dropping to 4th in the BCS rankings last week.
On the other side of the spectrum, Auburn doesn’t have much to play for in this game, other than pride. The Tigers (3-8, 0-7 SEC) are heading into the Iron Bowl with their worst record since the 2008 squad entered the game 5-6. So far this season, Auburn is winless in-conference, as well as winless on the road.
Despite the Tigers’ misfortunes, Alabama head coach Nick Saban said he isn’t letting his team overlook its biggest rival.
“You throw everything out the window in terms of records when you play rivalry games,” Saban said.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, their record is a fairly accurate depiction of how well they’ve played all season: awfully. The Tigers rank at or near the bottom in numerous statistical categories, not only in the SEC, but nationally as well.
The Tigers’ problems start with their offense. Eleven games into the season, Auburn ranks next-to-last in the SEC in points per game with 20.4, average offensive output with 317.9, and average passing output per game with 164.4.
Starting Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier has completed roughly 54 percent of his passes, throwing for less than 1,000 yards and throwing eight interceptions to only two touchdowns.
The Tigers’ only redeeming quality on offense has been their two running backs, Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb. Both have proven to be decent rushing threats for the Tigers, compiling 920 and 573 rushing yards respectively, as well as a combined 14 rushing touchdowns.
Defensively, Auburn hasn’t fared much better. The Auburn defense is giving up just under 27 points a game, while allowing opponents to gain an average of over 400 yards per game.
Despite the Tigers’ level of play so far this year, junior running back Eddie Lacy shared Saban’s sentiments in saying Auburn still represents a potential hazard to his team.
“Any team is dangerous, and you never know what could happen,” Lacy said. “We just have to prepare the way we’ve been doing all season long, because they’re going to come out, they’re going to play hard, and they’re going to try to win just like we’ll try to win.”
Even with all the championship implications that come with winning the Iron Bowl, national or otherwise, the players on the team said they will prepare for Auburn much like they have for every other opponent they’ve faced.
“It’s like any other game,” said junior cornerback Deion Belue. “We take it one game at a time… And now you got Auburn coming up, so we’re going to focus on Auburn.”
Much like in the Tide’s previous big games, however, the Tigers have a number of intangible factors that may play in their favor in the Iron Bowl, regardless of how Alabama approaches the game.
After reeling for most of the year, Auburn came away with its most complete victory of the season Saturday against the Alabama A&M Bulldogs, 51-7. While the victory wasn’t against an impressive opponent, the win may provide the Tigers with some much-needed confidence heading into this week’s matchup.
Another dangerous aspect for the Tide heading into the game is the fact that Auburn has nothing to lose. At 3-8, the Tigers’ season is over after the Iron Bowl. The Tigers are going to try to send out their seniors with a win, and if not for any other reason, want to win simply to spoil the SEC and national title hopes of their biggest rivals.
Senior defensive end Damion Square said Alabama’s own success may prove to add motivation for the Tigers heading into the matchup.
“Exactly. That’s the reason why you’ve got to come with your A-game,” he said. “Those guys are going to throw a lot at us and we’ve got to be ready to respond, ready to play the way we play.”
Regardless of what Auburn brings to the game, however, Square said what this game will boil down to is the same thing that every other Alabama game has boiled down to: playing to its own standard.
“We know what’s ahead,” Square said. “We have played against these guys previously. We know it means a lot to them and they know that it means a lot to us, so we are going to have come and play to our standard. We are going to play a good Iron Bowl for the fans.”