No. 1 Alabama won't let down against No. 16 Auburn
Top-ranked Alabama already wrapped up the SEC West and plays East winner Florida for the conference championship Dec. 3, but that doesn't mean the Crimson Tide is looking past Auburn.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said the Iron Bowl rivalry will define the “legacy of the season” in terms of what the Crimson Tide is trying to accomplish.
“I think this is one of the greatest rivalry games in the country,” Saban said. “I know it means a lot to a lot of people in this state as well as nationally and the competitors in the game probably enjoy this kind of competition, this kind of rivalry as much as any game that they play.”
The Crimson Tide host the No. 16 Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS).
Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC) goes into the game with the nation's No. 1 defense against the run, holding foes to fewer than 69 yards per game rushing, and No. 2 in scoring defense (11.4 points). The defense scored nine touchdowns on five fumble returns and four interception runbacks this season.
Add in three punt returns for touchdowns and the Tide scored 12 non-offensive touchdowns, twice as many as the next two FBS teams on the list (Ohio State and Houston).
Offensively, the Tide averages nearly 478 yards in total offense with freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts passing for 197 per game and rushing for 73. Running backs Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs combined to average more than 121 yards rushing.
Auburn's defense, however, allowed only 15 touchdowns in 11 games, limited opponents to about 118 rushing yards per game, and allowed an average of 334.5 yards in total offense, which is 18th-best in the country and fifth in the SEC.
The Tigers (8-3, 5-2) can also to put pressure on opposing passers (25 sacks, 82 quarterback hurries) and when they can't get to the quarterback, they have a knack for batting the ball down at the line of scrimmage. Defensive linemen Montravius Adams, Marlon Davidson, Dontavius Russell, Maurice Swain and Derrick Brown have combined for 10 pass breakups.
“Obviously, we're working for sacks,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “But more importantly, we're working to affect the quarterback, and one of the ways to affect the quarterback is to get your hands up and bat balls.”
But the Tigers are unsettled on the offensive side of things. Though running back Kamryn Pettway, their leading rusher with 1,108 yards, is expected to play after missing the last two games with a leg injury and starter Kerryon Johnson's ankle seems to get better each week, the situation at quarterback remains a mystery.
Sophomore Sean White sat out last week's victory over Alabama A&M with a sore shoulder and senior Jeremy Johnson started. Johnson was effective in only his third game this season, completing 14 of 19 passes for 147 yards in the 55-0 rout.
But that was against an overmatched FCS foe. Need it even be said that Alabama's defense presents a much bigger challenge?
White, who is 129 of 198 passing for 1,644 yards and nine touchdowns, has been on and off the field in recent games. He didn't start against Vanderbilt but came in to rally the Tigers from a three-point halftime deficit to a 23-16 victory.
The next week, he started against Georgia but re-injured his shoulder and was largely ineffective as the Tigers lost 13-7. He didn't play at all last week as Johnson and John Franklin III took over.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said that Johnson could start again with Franklin as an alternative.
“I thought Jeremy and John both did a good job,” Lashless said of their performance last week. “They've been repping for us the last couple of weeks of practice when Sean hasn't been practicing. We'll see where Sean is in the process.
“We'll try to make a call, at least on our end, earlier in the week so we can prepare the way we need to, but I wouldn't rule any of them out right now.”
Alabama prevailed 29-13 last year and won six of the last eight meetings to take a 44-35-1 series lead.