Auburn football vs. Alabama: Our scouting report, score prediction

Richard Silva
Montgomery Advertiser

AUBURN — For the 87th time in the history of the sport, Auburn football will take on Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

It's arguably the most intense rivalry in college football, and even with both teams out of SEC championship contention, Saturday's (2:30 p.m. CT, CBS) game still has an immeasurable meaning due to the history between the two programs.

Auburn (5-6, 2-5 SEC) comes into the game after blowing out Western Kentucky in the second half last Saturday on the way to a 41-17 win. Running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter rushed for over 100 yards apiece for the second consecutive game, and the defense pitched a shutout in the second half.

As for Alabama, the Crimson Tide (9-2, 5-2) most recently handled Austin Peay, 34-0, in a tuneup for the last regular-season game of the year. There's also a chance the Iron Bowl could be the final time we see players like Bryce Young and Will Anderson in Alabama uniforms, as they may potentially opt out of whatever bowl game the Crimson Tide participates in and declare for the NFL draft.

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Here's our scouting report and score prediction for Saturday's matchup:

Slowing down Bryce Young

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9) celebrates after throwing a pass for a touchdown during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. LSU won 32-31 in overtime. (AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman)

Alabama's offense doesn't have a superstar receiver like Jerry Jeudy or Jameson Williams, but it still has a difference-maker at the sport's most important position — quarterback.

Young, who won the Heisman Trophy last year, is presumably going to be a top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and with good reason. Although he's likely going to leave Tuscaloosa without a national championship as a starter, there's a legitimate argument to be made he's the most talented quarterback coach Nick Saban has ever had in his tenure at Alabama.

The key for Auburn will be keeping Young off the field, and it can do that by controlling the clock and having long, sustained drives. The Tigers possessed the ball for over 11:00 in the first quarter against the Hilltoppers. If they can do something similar for a full game against Alabama, which won't be an easy task, they have a chance to limit some of the damage Young can do.

Keep it close

It's not a secret Auburn is at a severe disadvantage in this game. The Tigers haven't won at Bryant-Denny Stadium since 2010, the Crimson Tide has more talent on its roster and interim head coach Carnell "Cadillac" Williams is tasked with coaching against one of the greatest to ever do it in Saban. Logic says Alabama should run away with this one.

Alabama coach Nick Saban works with defensive coordinator Pete Golding in the final seconds of the team's NCAA college football game against Texas A&M, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

But logic often gets thrown out the window in rivalry games. And with everything surrounding both programs — Alabama is primed to miss the College Football Playoff for only the second time since its inception, and Auburn made a midseason coaching change — things could get really weird.

Expecting the Tigers to take it to Alabama and jump out to a large lead isn't realistic. But if Auburn can just hang around and give itself a puncher's chance late, the fans can't ask for much better than that.

Play loose

Auburn Tigers defensive lineman Derick Hall (29) celebrates as the Auburn Tigers take on the Penn State Nittany Lions at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

From an outsider's perspective, Auburn doesn't have much to play for. Sure, the Tigers can become bowl eligible with a win, but considering the season they've had, the players should feel little pressure heading into this game. No one is giving them much of a chance to win.

Empty the playbook, play free and leave everything on the field, especially seniors like Derick Hall, who will never suit up for Auburn again.

"If we win, we win, we get a bowl game," Hall said Monday. "If we don't, you know, we fought for Auburn. We have nothing to lose. I mean ... we are playing with house money. We just go out and put our best foot forward and put ourselves in a position to try to win this football game.

"Be in a dogfight for 60 minutes, because that's what it takes in the Iron Bowl. The score doesn't matter. The record doesn't matter. None of that matters. It's about who wants it more that day."

Auburn football vs. Alabama score prediction

Alabama 17, Auburn 13: The talent disparity is simply too large to not pick the Crimson Tide, but the Tigers can keep this thing close, especially if they rally around Williams and play inspired. I anticipate a game similar to last season's Iron Bowl, a defensive duel that goes down to the wire.