Auburn has the talent to keep this thing competitive.
Don’t laugh because this isn’t a joke. And don’t let anything convince you otherwise.
Not Vegas. Not the records. Not the stats.
The point spread of the 83rd Iron Bowl is larger than Lake Martin (Alabama by 24 points), and the Tigers’ record (7-4) is disappointing, and Auburn’s rushing numbers are downright embarrassing (3.83 yards per carry against SEC teams, or 13th in the league). Alabama’s offense, meanwhile, has the firepower of the Death Star.
The Tide is supposed to turn Auburn into cosmic dust.
We all understand the circumstances. College football’s worst fear has been realized this season, Alabama with an elite quarterback.
The Crimson Tide is undefeated (11-0), and the No.1 team in the country. Auburn lost to Tennessee at home. Alabama set a series scoring record in its 58-21 victory against the Volunteers.
It all paints a bleak picture for the Tigers.
To me, though, all those numbers only mean one thing for 60 minutes. Auburn has an opportunity on Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium to deliver the biggest upset in the history of the greatest rivalry in college football.
Yes, maybe even bigger than “Punt Bama Punt.”
Until “Kick Six,” the 1972 Iron Bowl shocker known simply as “Punt Bama Punt” was considered by many to be the greatest Iron Bowl in the history of the series. Maybe it still is. Why? Because it’s one of the series’ biggest upsets. Auburn was a 14-point underdog in that game, and won despite not scoring an offensive touchdown.
This Auburn team is more than a three-touchdown underdog, its offense is one-dimensional and Alabama has shut out its last two SEC opponents. Alabama blanked LSU 29-0, and then pummeled Mississippi State 24-0. Those teams, by the way, both defeated Auburn.
What makes me think Auburn has even the slightest chance on Saturday? The frustration I’ve felt again and again and again watching Auburn this season. The close losses. The missed receivers. The drops. The fumble at the goal line. The carelessly thrown interceptions. The pass interference penalties. The blown leads.
Fans have coined the phrase “Gus-tration,” which is brilliant. Auburn is better than its record suggests, but the team’s confidence level is worse than anyone could have predicted.
Here’s what Auburn has going for itself, though.
The Tigers’ defense features NFL-caliber talent, their quarterback beat Alabama last year and Auburn’s special teams have made some incredible plays this season.
Repeat: Auburn’s special teams have made some incredible plays this season. Is this beginning to sound familiar?
Maybe Bill Newton should give Auburn’s pregame speech on Saturday, and David Langner the halftime address. It was Newton who blocked those two punts in 1972, and Langner who returned them for touchdowns. Auburn won 17-16 after trailing 16-0 with 10 minutes left in the game.
And there’s this. Unlike at the beginning of the season, these afterthought Tigers are now unencumbered by pressure. “Gus-tration” is knowing that’s when Gus Malzahn’s teams are at their best.
That’s a cheap shot, of course, but not entirely without merit. Malzahn is an easy target these days, but he’s the only coach left in the SEC with a victory against Nick Saban. Malzahn has gotten the best of Saban twice. That counts for something in this Iron Bowl of unprecedented odds.
The state title remains Auburn’s until Saturday, and with some luck the Tigers can keep it and once again watch Alabama go to the College Football Playoff anyway.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group. He’s on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.
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