Thursday, November 22, 2012
Five storylines: The Iron Bowl
By Alex Scarborough
Alabama will aim to create turnovers against Auburn as it did in the season's first eight games.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1) is back in the title hunt after a stunning weekend of college football with upsets of Kansas State and Oregon. This Saturday, the Crimson Tide will look to avoid the same fate as they host in-state rival Auburn (3-8, 0-7) at 2:30 p.m. CT.
Here are five storylines for the game ...
1. Focus on the present, play to win: Alabama players are saying all the right things about keeping their focus on Auburn and not the matchup with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 1. It's an easy thing to say, but harder to practice, as evidenced by the Tide's letdown against Texas A&M. Auburn isn't the talent of Texas A&M, but the Tigers still present challenges. (Remember the struggles LSU had on The Plains).
"What we try to stress from our players is trying to learn from your previous experience," UA coach Nick Saban said. "People get sort of emotionally stressed out relative to their circumstances, which is where they're ranked, who they're playing. And all of a sudden you get tentative and don't play aggressively."
Will Alabama suffer the same fate again?
2. Creating turnovers: Through eight games, Alabama was a turnover machine, placing in the top five nationally with 23 turnovers, three more than it had all of last season. But the last three games have seen a drought in takeaways with just one coming against unranked Western Carolina. Combine the lack of turnovers on defense with the abundance on offense and special teams (six fumbles, two interceptions) and it's a point of concern for the coaching staff.
"Turnover ratio is paramount to being successful," Saban said. "It's one of the leading stats in winning and losing. We haven't done ourselves any favors the last couple of games."
3. The unknown: What do we really know about Auburn, other than its struggles? Do we know how good or bad quarterback Jonathan Wallace is? How about sophomore running back Tre Mason? Or defensive end Dee Ford? Did you know the junior is sixth in the league in sacks? With Auburn mired in a three-win season, what we know about the Tigers is limited to say the least.
4. First glimpse at the Iron Bowl: Alabama's rookies have been through a lot this season: Big wins on the road and at home, a heartbreaking loss and an unexpected revival. So it's fair to shed the "newbie" label in some respects. But for all that freshmen such as Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon and Geno Smith have seen, they've never witnessed the Iron Bowl up close and personal. The intensity of the game should be especially poignant to Yeldon, who committed to the Tigers early in his senior year before flipping to the Tide after offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left to become the head coach at Arkansas State.
5. Coaching on the hot seat: There's nothing as dangerous as a man with nothing to lose. While there hasn't been any solid indication that Gene Chizik is on his way out the door, it's easy to tell which way the wind is blowing on The Plains. His job is in danger and a poor showing against Alabama could be the final embarrassment for the Auburn brass. With that said, will Chizik come out swinging in Bryant-Denny Stadium? Will he go deep into his bag of tricks to knock Alabama off its heels? If you were battling for your job, wouldn't you throw out everything but the kitchen sink?