After a light warm-up against Mercer, the Crimson Tide gets its most difficult test of the season as the team travels to take on No. 6 Auburn. A win keeps Alabama moving toward its College Football Playoff goal, while a defeat throws up hundreds of different scenarios. It has the makings of a classic.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Confuse the Auburn defense
It can be argued that the single biggest result of this college football season was the 40-17 Auburn win over Georgia. It wasn’t just that the Tigers beat the Bulldogs, it was the way that they controlled the game against the then No. 1 team in the country. Specifically, it was the way that the Georgia offense – and in particular their running game – just couldn’t do anything against the Tigers defensive front.
Auburn held a Georgia rushing attack that was rolling over opponents to just 46 yards on 32 attempts. Their first order of business against Alabama will be to do the same thing, potentially loading the box to stop the Crimson Tide running game. The difference is that Alabama has a much more seasoned quarterback in Jalen Hurts, a player that will pick the Auburn defense apart if they focus too much on stopping the run. By confusing the defense with motion and formations, Alabama should get some easy yardage.
Win the field position battle.
These are two defenses that range between very good and great depending on the week. The offenses will get their yardage and scores, but this could easily come down to a battle of field position. If one team is able to start most of their drives close to midfield, while the other has to drive from inside their own 20, then the first team will be in a much better position to win.
Thankfully for Alabama, they have a weapon that should help them win this particular battle.
Punter J.K. Scott has been outstanding this season. He averages over 43 yards per punt and he does an outstanding job of killing the ball inside the 20-yard line when in a reasonable position to do so. He has a long punt of 59 yards this year, but going back to 2014 he has shown the potential to boot the ball 73 yards. His punting numbers are skewed to the low end given that Alabama rarely needs a huge punt, but if given the opportunity on Saturday it is conceivable that Scoot could punt Auburn out of the game.
Stop Kerryon Johnson
Alabama has a stable of running backs that can damage Auburn. Auburn has Kerryon Johnson at running back and that is about it. Johnson is the ninth leading rusher in the nation, averaging more than 130 yards on the ground each time out. Against Georgia he was a one-man team early on, using his bruising running style to unsettle the Georgia defense and drive Auburn forward. It is his running that opens up the game for quarterback Jarrett Stidham and his running that keeps Auburn ticking over.
If Alabama can slow down – or even stop – Johnson, then Auburn will be in big trouble. The Alabama linebacker situation is still a mess, but players like Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis are getting healthy and could contribute. The front seven’s ability to stop the run will be massive here.