With quarterback Bo Nix out for the year with a broken ankle, Auburn’s best offensive weapon is tailback Tank Bigsby.
Alabama’s defense is, as usual, strong against the run — ranked fifth in FBS at 85.9 yards per game, although Florida showed earlier in the year that it’s possible to gash that defense with a ground attack.
Something will have to give Saturday in the Iron Bowl at Auburn, where the third-ranked Crimson Tide (10-1, 6-1 SEC) will try to hold on to their spot in the College Football Playoff’s top four against a bitter rival that would love nothing more than to ruin their season.
Bigsby appears to be the Tigers’ best chance. Coming off a 164-yard game last week in a 21-17 loss at South Carolina, Bigsby is 60 yards away from 1,000. As Alabama coach Nick Saban noted earlier this week, Bigsby runs behind his pads and can make defenders miss.
“He has a big, strong lower body,” Tide linebacker Will Anderson said. “He’s able to extend plays to his legs, run through defenders and stuff like that, and be able to get more yards on his tackles and stuff like that. So I think that’s a big part of his game.”
As good as Bigsby has been at times this year — he has five 100-yard games — he’s still going to need a little help from quarterback TJ Finley. The LSU transfer led two touchdown drives in the first quarter at South Carolina but couldn’t get much done after that.
Finley was 17 of 32 for 188 yards and a touchdown.
“He did some good things,” Auburn coach Bryan Harsin said. “I thought he led on the sideline. I knew he worked hard leading into it, and we didn’t get the result we wanted.”
It’s going to be harder for the Tigers (6-5, 3-4) to get the result they want if they can’t back up Bigsby with some kind of passing attack. Auburn’s offense probably has to double what it scored last week to have a chance — and even that might not be enough.
Alabama is averaging 44.4 points, meaning a 42-35 victory over Arkansas last week that clinched another SEC West title actually checked in below its average. Of course, Bryce Young’s 559 yards and five touchdown passes still produced a few wows and might have swung some Heisman Trophy momentum his way.
Young’s first season as a starter has produced 3,584 yards, 38 touchdowns and just three interceptions in 367 passing attempts. And it’s not like he’s always been able to work from a clean pocket; he has absorbed 26 sacks and probably scrambled out of others with his ability to keep plays alive.
The Tide are 19 1/2-point road favorites, but Jordan-Hare Stadium hasn’t exactly been their favorite place to play. They’ve lost three of their last four trips to the eastern part of the state, including a 48-45 defeat in 2019 that saw the Tigers return two Mac Jones interceptions for touchdowns and seal the win when they picked up a first down after Alabama was flagged for 12 men on the field.
This will be the 86th meeting of the schools. The Tide own a 47-37-1 lead.