Matchups to Watch in the 84th Iron Bowl

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Matchups to Watch in the 84th Iron Bowl

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

Jack Kennedy | @JWkennedy24, Staff Reporter

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Alabama needs to beat Auburn on Saturday to have a chance to make the College Football Playoff. Auburn hasn’t won back-to-back home Iron Bowls since 2005 and 2007, but the Tigers would love nothing more than to knock their rival out of playoff contention. A Tigers win would also quiet the speculation about coach Gus Malzahn’s job security. Here are the key matchups to watch on Saturday in a rivalry never lacking in intrigue.

MAC JONES VS. AUBURN SECONDARY

In two starts this season, redshirt sophomore quarterback Mac Jones has thrown for a combined 510 yards and six touchdowns while completing more than 82% of his passes. On Saturday, Jones and the Crimson Tide offense will be facing a much stiffer challenge as Alabama travels to Auburn for the Iron Bowl. If Alabama wants to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive, it will need Jones to perform at his best in the face of Auburn’s stout defensive line, the linchpin of a Tigers defense that allows 110 rushing yards per game. Alabama could face third downs often, and the Auburn defense, which ranks in the top 10 in third-down defense, will force Jones to throw in order to convert third downs. Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, Auburn sophomore safety Jamien Sherwood, who has 27 tackles and three pass breakups in the past five games, is suspended for the first half due to a targeting penalty on Saturday against Samford. Alabama’s quartet of wide receivers is more likely to be fully healthy, too, with junior Henry Ruggs III potentially returning from injury.

ALABAMA DEFENSIVE LINE VS. AUBURN OFFENSIVE LINE

Alabama was forced to go deep into the defensive line depth chart against Western Carolina since senior Raekwon Davis, freshman D.J. Dale and redshirt sophomore Phidarian Mathis were out due to injury. While the Catamounts are not nearly as physical as Auburn, the defensive line, led by redshirt freshman Christian Barmore, wreaked havoc, recording three sacks and 4.5 tackles for a loss. Even though the three injured defensive linemen are expected to return, the experience gained from the last game could prove to be pivotal against Auburn. The Tigers will try to wear down the Alabama defense by speeding up their offense and limiting defensive substitutions, but when the Crimson Tide gets the opportunity, it will almost surely dip into its deep crop of linemen.

ALABAMA PUNT RETURN VS. AUBURN PUNT COVERAGE

Sophomore wide receiver Jaylen Waddle has been the best punt returner for the Crimson Tide in recent memory, and his contribution on Saturday could be the most significant. Against Western Carolina, Waddle showed how he can affect the game when he returned a punt for 49 yards to put the Crimson Tide on the 3-yard line. He also made an error of not fair-catching a punt that the Catamounts downed inside the Alabama 10-yard line. While the error did not affect the outcome of the game, an error similar to that could put the Crimson Tide in a tough situation against Auburn.