Behind Enemy Lines with the Auburn Plainsman’s Nathan King


Photo courtesy of Nathan King

James Ogletree | @jameslogletree, Sports Editor

The Crimson White caught up with Nathan King, the sports editor of the Auburn Plainsman, to preview the 84th Iron Bowl. Here’s all you need to know about a must-win game for the Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes.

Editor’s note: Some answers have been edited due to space constraints or for clarity.

Q: How would you evaluate Bo Nix’s performance this season? Has he come close to living up to the hype?

A: Yes, Bo Nix was hyped in the offseason as a five-star and the top-rated quarterback signee in the Gus Malzahn era. But that excitement also came with an understanding that he’s still a freshman playing in what traditionally isn’t a very QB-friendly system. But overall, it really depends on who you ask about Nix’s progression this year. Some fans have been frustrated with him, but most understand that his three objectively bad games of the year came in his first career game against Oregon, on the road against Florida and on the road against LSU. He bounced back well and nearly pulled off enough big throws to complete a comeback victory against Georgia two weeks ago, and he’s going to be the most prolific freshman quarterback in terms of stats in program history by season’s end. He’s a gifted passer that is still working kinks in [his] own game and is having to play behind an offensive line that has really struggled against most competition this year.

Q: Alabama has struggled with containing mobile QBs on multiple occasions. How lethal can Nix’s mobility be?

A: Designed quarterback runs for Nix have been effective for Auburn’s offense. He’s not going to rattle off an 80-yard touchdown run if he gets open space, but he’s nifty evading pressure and can make one good move on a linebacker to pick up six yards on a QB power. It’s nothing, I’m sure, that Alabama is too worried about, but his legs have been a consistent fixture in the offense despite the Tigers not having a big-time option at backup quarterback anymore.

Q: What impresses you the most about Auburn’s defensive line? How important will the trench battle be in determining who wins the game?

A: Everybody eats. If Outland Trophy finalist Derrick Brown is swallowed up by a double team, defensive end Marlon Davidson can shoot that gap and wreak havoc. They also open up holes for this new-look linebacker group to get into the backfield and make a lot of plays. But, it starts and usually ends with Brown. He’s having the best season by an Auburn defensive lineman since Nick Fairley in 2010, and I would say he’s been of the more dominant players in college football this season regardless of position. 

Q: Alabama’s offense certainly lost some firepower with Tua Tagovailoa’s injury, but the Crimson Tide’s receivers are still an elite group. How much can Auburn’s secondary keep them in check?

A: Auburn’s secondary has been viewed as the weak link of the team’s defense because of how dominant the front seven has been. Yes, the defensive backs have their lapses as all secondaries do, but their big plays allowed this year can really be counted on one hand. It’s the best tackling secondary Auburn has had in a long while, and I think that will be the key to Saturday’s matchup with those Alabama receivers, which are one of the top two or three units out wide in the nation.

I have no doubt Mac Jones can get the ball in those receivers’ hands – you don’t get the backup QB job at Alabama for no reason. But from there, it’s whether Auburn’s DBs can wrap up. If you let any one of Alabama’s wideouts break one tackle, you may be liable to give up an 80-yard touchdown.

Q: We’ve reached the time of year when the rumors about Malzahn’s job security start swirling. How safe is he, and how far would an Iron Bowl win go in that regard?  

A: If Malzahn beats Nick Saban again, give the rumors some warm milk and put them to bed. Yes, there have been rumblings about his job security after the Georgia loss, but all will be forgiven with a win over Alabama. Plus, a win in the Iron Bowl and in the Tigers’ bowl game will give them a 10-win season with a true freshman quarterback and one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Even the most stubborn Malzahn doubters won’t be able to deny that’s a respectable season.

Q: Even with the playoff out of the question, how much would it mean to players, coaches and fans to end Alabama’s playoff hopes?

A: Auburn is playing for itself here. I don’t think these players care too much about the playoff picture, especially since they’re not part of it anymore. Would they like to knock Alabama out for certain? Sure. It’s a rivalry. But everyone will be more focused on sending out leaders like Brown and Davidson with a bang. 

Q: Auburn will win the game if…?

A: Nix plays above average and the defense holds Alabama under 28 points.

Q: What is your score prediction, and why?

A: I’ve got Alabama winning in Jordan-Hare Stadium, 28-24. That would be the most points allowed by the Tigers all season, but Alabama has the most playmakers of any team Auburn has seen with the exception of LSU. And yes, Auburn held LSU to 23 points in Baton Rouge, but I’m not sure the defense can hold on any longer while the offense is still “a work in progress.” (Yes, Malzahn said that after the Georgia loss.) I think Mac Jones can do just enough to let Najee Harris and the receivers outscore Nix.