AUBURN, Ala. — In September, it seemed that Auburn football might have the pieces to challenge Alabama and compete for the SEC Championship. Finally, the Tigers’ goals have turned to reality.
Gus Malzahn’s football team will take on the top-ranked Crimson Tide in the Iron Bowl on Saturday. For the second time in three weeks, Auburn will take on the No. 1 team in the country in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The schedule is a little different this week due to Thanksgiving. Auburn didn’t practice on Sunday as it usually does, instead holding a light workout on Monday night.
Malzahn appeared on a special edition of Tiger Talk on Monday night. He detailed some of the keys that will be critical if Auburn hopes to beat the Crimson Tide. Similarly to the Georgia game, stopping the run tops the list.
The coach should delve more into what will be required to defeat Nick Saban’s talented Alabama team and provide at least some injury updates.
Here’s what Malzahn said about the rivalry game:
- “This week we’re playing for the SEC West Championship on our home field in the No. 1 team in the country. I think it’s a well-deserved rank when you look at them,” Malzahn started.
- Defensively, Malzahn said, Alabama pressures more than it has in the past. They’re “very aggressive.”
- Malzahn was very complimentary of the Crimson Tide’s punter.
- “We do have experience playing the No. 1 team in the country there,” Malzahn said. “Our goal is to win the SEC Championship. We’ve made that clear from Day 1.”
- “We’re a stronger team today than we were five weeks ago.” Malzahn said Auburn played its best game against No. 1 Georgia two weeks ago.
- Malzahn said Auburn has really been in the playoffs since its trip to LSU. Every week was a “must-win” game. “We’re going to have to play very good and our team knows that. We’re looking forward to it.”
- On injury updates: “As of right now, I’d say everyone has a good chance of playing.”
- Senior linebacker Tre’ Williams and defensive back Jeremiah Dinson are questionable. Running back Kamryn Pettway will be out.
- Vinson suffered a concussion, Malzahn said.
- “It feels like 2013,” Malzahn said. “It feels exactly the same way.”
- On quarterback preparation: “Well, you have to be prepared. There’s nothing like experience … You’ve got to experience it. Jarrett’s in a good spot. He knows what it’s about. He knows how big of a game … I will say this, I’m glad we have our starting quarterback healthy. That’s good to be able to say that.”
- The line of scrimmage will determine the outcome, Malzahn said.
- The Auburn coach was very complimentary of Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick: “He’s a dominant player, and he’s earned that right to be talked about as one of the top players in the country.”
- On running back Kerryon Johnson’s growth: “He had to manage his hamstring in the first couple of games in SEC play … he’s stronger. He’s wanting the football. He’s playing at a very high level.”
- Malzahn called defensive lineman Dontavius Russell “Mr. Consistency” and went on and on about Derrick Brown, who he says is playing his best football right now.
- “I think it’s important to try to put them in an unfamiliar position in a lot of ways,” Malzahn said. “Every year they’re going to be in that kind of atmosphere … the good thing for us is we do have experience.”
- “You’ve got to make them pay when they blitz, or they’ll keep doing it,” Malzahn said.
- “This is the best scoring that we’ve done since I’ve been at Auburn,” Malzahn said. “The job that Chip’s doing is outstanding.”
- On Kevin Steele: “I think anytime you have experience with someone it always can help in certain areas. Kevin has experience, Greg Brown has experience coaching over there … every year is different.”
- On preparation: “You do your homework in all areas.”
- Malzahn said Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts can make bad plays good plays. “There aren’t many quarterbacks in the country who can do that.”
- Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley, in case you didn’t know, is really impressive. Auburn has “grown” with a new coordinator, balance, new ideas. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham is “playing better and very efficient, spreading the ball around.”
- Malzahn wouldn’t go near answering the hypothetical of what happens if Auburn loses to Alabama.
- “This is probably as big of a game around here since we’ve had since 2013,” Malzahn said.