Tide Illustrated’s Max Wolborsky sat down with AuburnSports editor Jay G Tate to discuss this week’s Iron Bowl between No. 7 Alabama and Auburn.
What’s different with Auburn under Carnell Williams?
“The former Auburn tailback has brought back the passion to the sideline that, frankly, he had very little in recent years. Williams, who served as an offensive assistant before being elevated to interim head coach in October, calls no plays and is not an important element in terms of the game plan. He really pushed this idea of ”service,” which he interprets as being available to his players and having their back at all times. It may seem like a rudimentary thing for a head coach, but this is basically the opposite of what Bryan Harsin did.”
What would qualify as success for Auburn in this game?
“Auburn will go into this game as a 22-point underdog, give or take a few points. The Tigers rarely have much success inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, so I’d say a reasonably close game would be a successful outing. Auburn can win the game?There is a chance, not a big chance.
“What’s important from Auburn’s perspective is that Williams has created an energy and a level of responsibility that just didn’t exist a month ago. It’s worth something.”
Alabama has seen a recent improvement in its rushing game. Will Auburn be able to slow it down?
“From an Auburn defensive end standpoint, things have been better lately. Defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding has been using ‘new’ players more often — guys who haven’t played much before — and a lot of them play offense. Also , linebacker Owen Pappoe has played at a much higher level now that he is utilized primarily as a star fielder rather than a reading and reacting linebacker.
“When you talk about slowing down Alabama’s running game, it’s really about being able to occupy blockers at the point of attack. I’m not sure Auburn can do that well against a formidable front like Alabama’s, but second level the tackling has been much better lately. This gives the Tigers a chance.”
Quarterback Robby Ashford has the second fastest rushing yards on the team. How can it affect Saturday’s game?
“Auburn’s quarterback is a good runner, even if he’s best with the ball in his hands. He himself he’s not a great guy for reading options. He’s also a poor passerby who simply can’t be asked to carry an offense by himself through the air. Ashford makes too many mistakes. The Tigers have throttled passing expectations in recent weeks and things have been running more smoothly.
“If Auburn can get Ashford into space, that’s dangerous. Getting him out there is the trick; the Tigers still haven’t figured out how to do it consistently without destroying other aspects of the offense.”
This is Tank Bigsby’s third Iron Bowl. Alabama was able to limit him to 102 combined yards on 40 carries in their last two meetings against him. How can it have a bigger impact this year?
“He’s a great defender, but the Tigers’ funky problems on offense under now-fired coordinator Eric Kiesau have left Bigsby underutilized and underappreciated. He looked like a pedestrian. Since Williams took over, Bigsby has been in the center of offense. Auburn also handled more zone scheme stuff and things ran more smoothly.
“Is that enough to significantly hurt the Alabama defensive front? Yes, that’s plausible. Bigsby is good and this line is playing better than it has in years.”
Who are some of the other playmakers on the Auburn offense who might make some plays this weekend?
“Tailback Jarquez Hunter is a terrific runner who would be a bigger star if he didn’t play behind Bigsby. Tight end John Samuel Shenker is a satisfying receiver who is also a slightly above average blocker. Freshman Camden Brown has some real acrobatic skills, but is averaging maybe only 15 snaps per game. He doesn’t play enough to really make a difference, even though I think he’s very talented.”
How does Auburn contain Bryce Young this year?
I guess pass rushing is the most consistent way to disrupt quarterbacks in general, even if Young’s breakout makes things very difficult for a defense. You can’t take big risks. So for me, the key is to bring in outside pressure and play conservatively at defensive tackle and linebacker. Don’t lose sight of the integrity of the gap. Auburn’s highest-rated defensemen all play in the secondary; those guys need to create some turnovers. Sure, that’s easy to say. Young is generally not prone to turnover.
Auburn could pull off the upset if…
“Auburn can’t let the spectacle of playing Bryant-Denny — with the coaching situation still evolving — mar its solemnity. Alabama is a terrific soccer team. The Tigers need to methodically solve the problem, stay tuned to self-responsibility and play with the kind of passion Williams displays on the sidelines. Turnovers are key. Auburn will need at least two to have a chance on Saturday.
“On offense, he has to run the ball effectively and not ask Ashford to work miracles through the air. It just isn’t what he is, and will drive Auburn to exasperation if necessary to do so.”
Is Lane Kiffin coming to Auburn?
I’m not going to answer that right now. It’s in the making.