The Iron Bowl is trench warfare. Prepare accordingly.
When the Tigers play the Tide in Jordan-Hare Stadium, they usually have a chance. But that's only if they set the tone up front.
The SEC is the ultimate line-of-scrimmage league. So, it stands to reason that the ultimate rivalry game in that league is usually won or lost up front.
Go back to your fondest memories of the Iron Bowl, Auburn fans.
You remember a team led by Shug Jordan busting through the Alabama protection for not one, but two touchdowns on blocked punts in 1972.
You remember how Pat Dye pushed the program to swing with Bear Bryant and his teams by a hard-working style of punishing run games and nasty defenses.
You remember how Tommy Tuberville took that same blueprint and won six Iron Bowls in a row with it.
You remember how Gus Malzahn brought his brand of smashmouth chaos to the Iron Bowl and won more games against Nick Saban than anyone before him.
If a football game is a battle, then the Iron Bowl is trench warfare — especially when Alabama has to invade enemy territory in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“The most physical team will win,” said tight end Luke Deal, who opened his career by being part of an Auburn team that won a wild 2019 Iron Bowl and nearly won another one two years later.
Since 2000, Auburn has played Alabama inside Jordan-Hare Stadium 11 times. The Tigers are 6-5 in those games, and two of those losses — 2009 and 2021 — were surprisingly quite close and went down to the wire.
And the stories of those games can be told in the trenches:
2001: Alabama 31, Auburn 7 — Alabama wins for the first time ever in Auburn after absolutely abusing the Tigers up front, finishing with five times the rushing yards per carry. The Tigers would respond by winning the next six in the series.
2003: Auburn 28, Alabama 23 — Cadillac went crazy, setting the tone for a monster rushing performance on the first play from scrimmage. Auburn’s defense held on for the win in the fourth quarter.
2005: Auburn 28, Alabama 18 — A game defined by five words: “Honk If You Sacked Brodie.” The Tigers had 11 sacks, and Alabama never really threatened.
2007: Auburn 17, Alabama 10 — Saban’s first shot at the Iron Bowl was actually won by Auburn, which leaned on a better running game and great defense.
2009: Alabama 26, Auburn 21 — The Tigers surprised many by limiting the Crimson Tide’s offense with an attacking defense. They ran out of gas late, but they proved that the records don’t always matter inside JHS.
2011: Alabama 42, Auburn 14 — Complete domination by Alabama.
2013: Auburn 34, Alabama 28 — Before the most legendary finish in the history of the sport, Auburn came back against Alabama and gave itself a chance to win late by getting stops and hammering away with a fearless ground game.
2015: Alabama 29, Auburn 13 — Arguably not as close as the final score appeared. Alabama didn’t get affected too much by Auburn’s defense.
2017: Auburn 26, Alabama 14 — A stunning double-digit win for Auburn, which made life extremely difficult for Jalen Hurts and played grind-it-out ball on offense with quick passing and downhill running.
2019: Auburn 48, Alabama 45 — The most absurd of all the Iron Bowls on this list, Auburn was still the better team up front that day, averaging 5.32 yards per carry and registering eight tackles for loss.
2021: Alabama 24, Auburn 22 (4OT) — With a one-legged backup quarterback and a struggling offense, Auburn still had multiple chances to win after Derick Hall and Co. had a remarkable seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
If there’s anyone who should believe that Jordan-Hare Stadium has otherworldly powers, it’s probably Saban himself. But the Alabama head coach had a different view of his trips to the Plains on Monday.
“People talk about all the crazy stuff that happens in this game,” Saban said. “But since I've been here, the team that should have won the game won the game, based on who played the best.”
That brings us to Saturday, when Auburn will face Alabama once again in the Iron Bowl inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
At the line of scrimmage, Alabama’s defense has looked the part for the majority of the 2023 season: top-20 nationally in sacks per game, top-40 in tackles for loss per game, top-30 in rushing yards allowed per carry, top-20 in yards allowed per play and top-15 in points allowed per game.
“It's kind of the same Alabama team we've seen for a couple of years,” offensive guard Gunner Britton said Monday. “They have really good edge rushers, they're really good players. One of them is probably going to be a first round pick this year and the other one is kind of coming into his own. I think their defensive line is really physical. They're going to play sound defense.”
Offensively, Alabama has been susceptible to giving up negative plays up front — No. 81 in tackles for loss allowed and No. 121 in sacks allowed — with a middle-of-the-road rushing attack. But Jalen Milroe has scored a dozen rushing touchdowns already and is putting up some extremely efficient passing numbers over the last month.
“That’s always vital, to win in the trenches, especially in this game,” said defensive tackle Marcus Harris, who made his Iron Bowl debut in 2021. “… We’ve got to come out with that same intensity, that same attitude (as 2021). We’re facing the same type quarterback, a dual-threat quarterback. We’ve got to focus on getting pressure on him and getting him uncomfortable.”
Two weeks ago, Auburn dominated Arkansas at the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense to the tune of a 38-point road blowout. The Tigers were rolling, having won three straight SEC games and building real momentum towards the Iron Bowl. All they had to do was take care of business against New Mexico State.
That didn’t happen, at all.
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