Know the foe: An opposing look at Alabama’s matchup with Auburn

Tide Illustrated’s Max Wolborsky caught up with AuburnSports publisher Jay G Tate to discuss this week’s Iron Bowl between No. 7 Alabama and Auburn.

What is different with Auburn under Carnell Williams?

“The former Auburn tailback has brought passion back to a sideline that, frankly, had very little throughout the past few years. Williams, who served as an offensive assistant prior to being elevated to interim head coach in October, doesn’t call plays and isn’t a major element in terms of game plan. He’s really pushed this idea of “service,” which he interprets as him being available to his players and having their back at all times. That may seem like a rudimentary thing for a head coach to do, but this is basically the opposite of what Bryan Harsin did.”

What would qualify as a success for Auburn in this game?

“Auburn will enter this game as a 22-point underdog, give or take a few points. The Tigers rarely enjoy much success inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, so I’d say a reasonably close game would be a successful outing. Can Auburn win the game? There’s a chance. It’s not a big chance.

“The big thing from an Auburn perspective is that Williams has created an energy and a level of accountability that simply didn’t exist a month ago. That’s worth something.”

Alabama has seen a recent improvement in its running game. Will Auburn be able to slow that down?

“Speaking from the perspective of Auburn’s defensive front, things have been better lately. Defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding has been using “new” players more often — guys who didn’t play much before — and several of them play up front. Also, linebacker Owen Pappoe has been playing at a much higher level now that he’s used primarily as an edge defender rather than a read-and-react linebacker.

“When you’re talking about slowing Alabama’s run game, it really comes down to being able to occupy blockers at the point of attack. I’m not sure Auburn can do that well against a terrific front like Alabama’s, but the second-level tackling has been much better lately. That gives the Tigers a chance.”

Quarterback Robby Ashford has the second-most rushing yards on the team. How can affect Saturday’s game?

“Auburn’s quarterback is a good runner, though he’s best with the ball in his hands. He’s not an awesome read-option guy per se. He’s also a poor passer who simply cannot be asked to carry an offense by himself through the air. Ashford makes too many mistakes. The Tigers have throttled down the passing expectations during the past few weeks and things have worked more smoothly.

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“If Auburn can get Ashford into space, he’s dangerous. Getting him out there is the trick; the Tigers haven’t figured how yet how to do that consistently without wrecking other facets of the offense.”

This is Tank Bigsbys third Iron Bowl. Alabama’s been able to limit him to 102 combined yards on 40 carries over its past two meetings against him. How can he make more of an impact this year?

“He’s a fine tailback, but the Tigers’ funky problems on offense under now-fired coordinator Eric Kiesau left Bigsby under-utilized and under-appreciated. He looked pedestrian. Since Williams took over, Bigsby has been a central focus of the offense. Auburn also has been running more zone-scheme stuff and things have been working more fluidly.

“Is that enough to damage Alabama’s defensive front in a significant manner? Yeah, it’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 could make some plays this weekend?

“Tailback Jarquez Hunter is a terrific, one-cut runner who’d be a bigger star if he wasn’t playing behind Bigsby. Tight end John Samuel Shenker is a satisfactory receiver who also is a slightly above-average blocker. Freshman wideout Camden Brown has some real acrobatic ability, but he only averages maybe 15 snaps a game. He doesn’t play enough to make a real difference, though I think he’s very talented.”

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How does Auburn contain Bryce Young this year?

I figure pass rush is the most consistent way to disrupt quarterbacks in general, though Young’s escapability makes things very tough for a defense. You can’t take big risks. So for me, the key is brining pressure from the outside and playing things conservatively at defensive tackle and linebacker. Don’t lose sight of gap integrity. Auburn’s highest-graded defenders all play in the secondary; those guys need to create a few turnovers. Of course, that’s easy to say. Young generally isn’t turnover-prone.

Auburn could pull off the upset if…

“Auburn cannot let the spectacle of playing in Bryant-Denny — with the head coach situation still in flux — wreck its solemnity. Alabama is a terrific football team. The Tigers must work the problem methodically, stay attuned to personal responsibility and play with the kind of passion Williams shows along the sideline. Turnovers are key. Auburn will need at least two to have a chance Saturday.

“On offense, it must run the ball effectively and not ask Ashford to make miracles happen through the air. That’s just not who he is, and he will lead Auburn to aggravation if required to do that.”

Is Lane Kiffin coming to Auburn?

I’m not going to answer that right now. It’s in flux.

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