Alabama football looks to end the emotional roller coaster of the regular season on a high note by defeating the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl. A win would put Alabama in double-digit wins for the 15th straight season.
Auburn’s offense has been lackluster for most of the season, but trends can sometimes become irrelevant in the Iron Bowl environment. The Tigers are currently 78th nationally in total offense at 377 yards per game and 90th in scoring at 24.5 points per game.
Alabama Football needs to stop the run
The strength of Auburn’s offense is its running game, led by talented running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter. Bigsby was the Tigers’ best offensive weapon throughout his tenure on the Plains. The junior running back has amassed 3,289 yards of total offense and 25 touchdowns in his career. He 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 he has largely struggled against the Crimson Tide. In two career Iron Bowls, he had just 105 yards on 41 carries (2.6 yards per game). Despite his high usage rate, Bigsby never scored a touchdown against Alabama football. The Tide defense hopes to keep him out of the end zone again this week.
Sophomore Jarquez Hunter would likely start on many other teams. In two seasons, he amassed 1,397 yards of offense and 13 scores despite playing a backup role to Bigsby. In 2022, he was effective as a ball carrier and pass catcher. On the year, Hunter has 743 yards and nine total touchdowns. He’s been especially effective in recent weeks, scoring touchdowns in three of his last four games. Hunter also eclipsed 100 yards rushing in back-to-back games after falling short of that mark last season.
Can Alabama Football Take Advantage of Auburn’s Predictability?
While Auburn has a good running game, they are extremely one-dimensional. The passing attack was one of the worst in the country all year. Auburn started this season with two quarterbacks, junior TJ Finley and redshirt sophomore Robby Ashford, and neither was effective.
As a team, Auburn completed less than 52 percent of its passes for 181.4 passing yards per game (115th in the FBS). The Tigers have eight passing touchdowns to 12 interceptions in 2022, and running back Jarquez Hunter has one of those eight.
Ashford has been the starter since week four. He has electric legs but really struggles throwing the ball and seems to decline week by 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 less than 50 percent of his passes in three straight games and in six of his last seven appearances. Ashford has failed to reach double figures or 150 yards in four of its last five outings. These numbers are almost shockingly bad. For all intents and purposes, Ashford is an athlete who happens to be shooting for the Tigers.
When he completed the pass, Ja’Varrius Johnson was the top target. Johnson has 25 catches for 473 yards and two touchdowns this year. He was much more impressive with TJ Finley under center, getting nearly half of his production in Finley’s three starts in September. Koy Moore, Shedrick Jackson and tight end John Samuel Shenker were also notable receivers for the Tigers.
While his arm isn’t much of a threat, Robby Ashford adds another dimension to Auburn’s ground attack. He rushed for 589 yards and five touchdowns this season. At face value, that’s a lot of rushing production for a quarterback. Including 20 sacks, the numbers show that Ashford was very dangerous as a runner.
Auburn ranks 31st in the nation in rushing offense with 195.6 rushing yards per game and has relied more and more on the run throughout the season. The Tigers have posted more than 250 rushing yards in three straight games and four of the last five.
This Iron Bowl will be a battle of strength and power as Alabama football is seventh nationally and first in the SEC allowing just 3.1 yards per carry. If the Crimson Tide defense can contain Ashford and slow down the Auburn running backs, the Tigers simply don’t have enough pass rushers to move the ball effectively.