Alabama football looks to end an emotional roller coaster ride of a regular season on a high by defeating the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl. With a win, Alabama would win its 15th straight season by double digits.
The Auburn offense hasn’t been impressive for most of the season, but trends can sometimes become irrelevant in an Iron Bowl setting. The Tigers currently rank 78th nationwide in total offense with 377 yards per game and 90th in scoring with 24.5 points per game.
Alabama Football needs to stop the run
The strength of the Auburn offense is its running game, led by talented running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter. Bigsby was the Tigers’ best offensive weapon throughout his time on the Plains. The junior back has 3,289 yards of offense and 25 touchdowns in his career. He has rushed for 907 yards and 10 touchdowns this season despite getting a lot of attention from opposing defenses.
Tank Bigsby is a great player but has largely struggled against the Crimson Tide. In two career Iron Bowls, he has rushed for just 105 yards (2.6 yards per game) on 41 touches. Despite the high usage rate, Bigsby has never scored a touchdown against Alabama Football. The Tide defense is hoping to keep him out of the end zone again this week.
Sophomore Jarquez Hunter would probably start on many other teams. Over two seasons, he amassed 1,397 yards in offense and 13 points despite playing a backup role for Bigsby. He was successful as a ball carrier and pass catcher in 2022. For the year, Hunter has 743 yards and nine total touchdowns. He’s been particularly effective in the past few weeks, scoring touchdowns in three of his last four games. Hunter has also eclipsed 100 yards in consecutive games, having failed to reach that mark previously this season.
Can Alabama Football Benefit From Auburn’s Predictability?
While Auburn has a good running game, they are extremely one-dimensional. The temporary attack was one of the nation’s worst all year. Auburn has started two quarterbacks this season, junior TJ Finley and redshirt student Robby Ashford, and neither has been effective.
As a team, Auburn has completed less than 52 percent of their passes for 181.4 yards per game (115th in FBS). The Tigers have eight passing touchdowns as opposed to 12 interceptions in 2022, and running back Jarquez Hunter was responsible for one of the eight touchdown passes.
Ashford has been the starter since week four. He’s electric with his legs but really struggles with throwing the ball and seems to be on the decline week-to-week. In the month of November, he completed 40 percent of his passes (22 of 55) for just 257 yards (85.7 yards per game).
Ashford has completed under 50 percent of his passes in three straight games and in six of his last seven appearances. In four of their last five games, Ashford has failed to hit double-digit completions or 150 passing yards. These passing numbers are almost frighteningly bad. By any measure, Ashford is an athlete who happens to snap for the Tigers.
When completing a pass, Ja’Varrius Johnson was the top target. Johnson has 25 catches for 473 yards and two touchdowns this year. He was far more effective with TJ Finley under middle, winning nearly half his production in Finley’s three starts way back in September. Koy Moore, Shedrick Jackson and tight end John Samuel Shenker were also notable receivers for the Tigers.
While his arm doesn’t pose much of a threat, Robby Ashford adds another dimension to the Auburn ground attack. He has rushed for 589 yards and five touchdowns this season. At first glance, this is a lot of hectic production for a quarterback. Given that they include 20 sacks, the numbers show Ashford was very dangerous as a runner.
Auburn ranks 31st in the country with 195.6 rushing yards per game and has leaned more and more on running play as the season has progressed. The Tigers have rushed for more than 250 yards in three straight games and four of the last five.
This Iron Bowl will be a power versus power battle as Alabama football ranks seventh nationally and first in the SEC, allowing just 3.1 yards per carry. When the Crimson Tide defense can contain Ashford and slow the Auburn running backs, the Tigers just don’t have enough passing play to move the ball effectively.