Iron Bowl preview: When Auburn has the ball

It’s Iron Bowl time again, and Auburn enters as a team trying to extricate itself from a self-inflicted meltdown on the back of an inexperienced interim coach who was a running back just a few years earlier. Cadillac Williams has brought some energy to the Auburn fanbase since they fired Brian Harsin, and his backstory shows in the way they run the ball.

It’s as if only yesterday that Tank Bigsby was a true freshman phenomenon, making waves in the SEC. He’s now a top scorer who somehow stuck it through the upsets and leads the team with nearly 1,000 rushing yards, 10 TDs and a 5.5 YPC average. Bigsby is a compact, powerful and tough runner both inside the tackles and on the edges. As it goes, so does Auburn.

They don’t really manage the old Malzahn read option and deflection runs, but they’re back to more of the 2005 gorund and signature pound style of power runs, pull guards, and sweeps. Sophomore Jarquez Hunter is Bigsby’s primary backup, and works so much like Alabama he used to use Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson as a punch 1-2 times a day.

Then you have to throw in QB Robby Ashford. Oregon’s transfer wasn’t as consistent as a passer, but dude is fast. He has 136 rushing attempts for nearly 600 yards on the season. He gets scrambled a lot, but can also be prone to taking bad losses.

In terms of passing game, there is not much to talk about. Much of his passing comes from screen passes to Bigsby and Hunter, and even that can be a bit of an adventure to complete the ball at times. Wide receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson is a fast outside man who leads the team with 473 yards (over 18 yards per catch). Then there’s TE John Samuel Shenker, who has 200 or so yards at log. There are a few other men caught, but only Johnson, Schenker, and Bigsby have more than 20 catches.

Ashford only completed 49% of his passes with 7 interceptions to 6 touchdowns, so, again, every touchdown is an adventure at best. They’ll make their yards and run the entire offense through the running game with Bigsby and Hunter, with Ashford dropping back at times (and threatening scrambling) to prevent the defenses from getting too much on their backs.

In the end, they only scored 24 points per game, and would be happy to put together 2-3 good drives. The Alabama defense has shown some struggles with strong inside rushers against LSU and Tennessee, but overall, not having a pass threat will allow them to get more heavy packs and limit damage, compared to having to worry too about wide spreads from Tennessee or LSU’s talented receivers. Extremely.

I expect less than 20 points for Auburn offense.

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