Alabama football tune-up foretells little, so we will: Iron Bowl will be tight | Goodbread

Chase Goodbread
The Tuscaloosa News

When football games like Alabama's 34-0 trouncing of Austin Peay precede a rivalry matchup, as they often do over the last two weeks of the Southeastern Conference schedule, the former is often referred to as a tune-up.

That's an accurate analogy for more than one reason, the most obvious one being a chance to improve in a few areas and perhaps rest up for the big game with a matchup that doesn't present much of any risk of loss. It's also analogous because tune-up, in its traditional meaning, doesn't require the car ever leave the garage. And that was the overwhelming sense that Saturday's victory over the FCS Governors gave off: Alabama cranked the engine and turned a few screws, but never even had to pull out of the driveway.

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From a health standpoint, it amounted to an extra idle week for injured players Jahmyr Gibbs, Cam Latu and Eli Ricks, who didn't suit up against Austin Peay and are all expected to be able to practice this week in preparation for the Iron Bowl.

From a feel-good standpoint, the Crimson Tide offense ran the ball with authority against a defensive front that couldn't mount any serious resistance, while the UA defense forged a shutout against an offense that was similarly outmanned.

From an Iron Bowl standpoint, however, it didn't move Alabama's odometer whatsoever. The Crimson Tide might be capable of repeating the rushing success it enjoyed in the second half at Ole Miss when it plays Auburn, but rumbling for 263 yards in between, against an Austin Peay, isn't a reliable indicator for it. Perhaps an Alabama defense that's struggled all year to force turnovers can do so against the Tigers, but forcing three of them against an FCS foe doesn't foretell more.

Mark this down, and if I'm wrong, cast your stones at the contact information below: the Iron Bowl is going to be tight. Like, one-score, edge-of-your-seat tight. Alabama has stood on the cliff's edge in the waning seconds of five games this year − as poor as Auburn has played, it is fully capable of making it six.

Rivalry games have a way of doing that.

Forget that Alabama has been installed as an early 26-point favorite; that's a ridiculously bloated number befitting past Alabama teams that have dominated opponents on a weekly basis. The Tigers will come to Tuscaloosa brimming with verve, despite a 2-5 SEC record. They'll do that because it's the Iron Bowl, of course, but also because they've had a brutally unfulfilling season and badly need to end it on an uptick. They'll do it for Carnell Williams, the beloved former AU player and now interim coach, who would put a win over Nick Saban at the very top of his resume.

They'll do it because they hate Alabama.

The feeling is mutual, but that doesn't mean a Crimson Tide team that's more talented at most positions won't have to scrap and claw for a full 60 minutes.

"It's huge. We hate them, they hate us," said senior linebacker Henry To'o To'o. "Definitely, it's going to be a huge challenge. The state of Alabama takes pride in this game, and we take pride into it as Crimson Tide players."

The tune-up is complete. But next Saturday, it will have to leave the garage.

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Tuscaloosa News sport columnist Chase Goodbread.