Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Iron Bowl 2019: A game that is almost always won or lost in the trenches

This is the Southeastern Conference, where big boys come to play big boy football and all little boys watch'em and pray they grow up to be'em. This is the Iron Bowl, an uncivil civil war between two in-state rivals. This game is like almost every other game played in this league in that it is almost always decided in that scant yard or so we call the neutral zone--a gentleman's euphemism for warfare's No Man's Land.

If your big strong ugly dudes can knock down the other team's big strong ugly dudes, you can win the game. If your less big, less ugly dudes can also block, catch and run, then you probably will win.

Auburn's defensive front seven is probably the best front seven in the league. They are big, athletic and have been wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines.  Their defense has kept them in games that they shouldn't have had a chance at winning.

Alabama probably has the best offensive line in the league. It's better than Georgia's and at least as good as LSU's. Bama's offensive line finally gelled when Deonte Brown returned from a four game NCAA suspension against Ole Miss in September. The line has worked together as a unit since then--a usual key to success up front.

Auburn's offensive line has been a disappointment. Some of that is due to youth, but some of it is due to injuries. The shifting of players and lack of experience has kept the unit from working successfully together for any considerable stretch. Talent at 'skill' positions only counts if the defense isn't on your side of the line of scrimmage every other snap.

Likewise, Alabama's front seven has struggled. Part of those struggles are also injury related. Bama lost LB Dylan Moses to a freak injury in practice before the season started. The team has never lacked the physical talent necessary to make plays. But Moses was to be the defense's quarterback, making sure the players were in position for Coach Saban's 3-4 Over/Under defense. The left side of the defense has frequently been caught flat-footed or just plain out of position, and the team has often found it hard to get off the field on third downs. Whether Moses' presence could have made a difference is pure speculation but it damned sure wouldn't have hurt.

So we'll likely see a push and push--Alabama's offensive line will struggle to keep Auburn's front seven from wrecking plays, and Alabama's talented front seven will likewise wreak havoc on a young Auburn offensive line.

In games like this, anything can happen. I have no idea who wins.