A Cadillac Classic? Evaluating the 2022 Iron Bowl

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Nov 19, 2022; Auburn, AL, USA; Coach Carnell Williams celebrates touch-down during the game between Auburn and Western Kentucky at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mackenzie Harris / AU Athletics

BY WIL CREWS

SPORTSCREWS@

OPELIKAOBSERVER.COM

AUBURN —

The 87th edition of the Iron Bowl pins bitter rivals Auburn and Alabama against one another as each program tries to salvage a disappointing 2022 season.

The Tigers enter 5-6, fresh off back-to-back wins under interim head coach Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and aiming to secure bowl eligibility. The Crimson Tide enter 9-2, playing for a possible “New Year’s Six” bowl game instead of the typically expected College Football Playoff berth.

This Alabama team is less intimidating than the juggernauts of years past. Play-calling concerns, a lack of bite from the defense and an absence of general optimism has plagued much of the Tide’s 2022 campaign. A shocking loss at Tennessee and an even more shocking loss at LSU has dampened the mood inside Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

Contrastingly, the morale of Auburn is as high as it has been in years. Cadillac has captured what it means to be a part of the “Auburn Family” and radiated that feeling throughout the players and the fanbase.

At this point, the wins and losses for Auburn don’t matter as much as the vibes. But in order to emerge victorious Saturday, the Tigers will need to “muck it up,” making the contest a cagey and defensive affair. The likelihood of Auburn winning a shootout similar to the 52-49 game between ‘Bama and the Vols is, let’s just say, slim. Encouragingly, however, Auburn’s defense has posted three of its best performances to date this season over the last three weeks, generating 10 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and four turnovers, all while allowing 22 points per game. Look for the leaders among the Auburn defense — Derick Hall, Colby Wooden and company — to be encouraged from recent results and do their best to corral Heisman-winning Alabama quarterback Bryce Young.

Offensively, the makeshift Auburn staff has done a good job at keeping things simple. The Tigers are getting the ball into the hands of their best players — namely running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter — early and often. Since Cadillac took over, Auburn has rushed for 779 yards and had five 100-yard rushers in three games.

The Tigers’ subpar passing attack will need to test a fragile Alabama secondary which has only had five interceptions all season. But trying to control the field position and time of possession through the running game is Auburn’s easiest path to victory.

Moreover, Auburn will need to continue its trend of playing better in second halves under Cadillac. The Tigers have outscored their opponents 57-19 in the second halves of the last three games. Prior to his takeover, second-half collapses had become an unwelcome custom under former Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin.

Make no mistake, Auburn is playing for much more than Alabama is this weekend. To beat the Tide, the Tigers will have to play at their near-best — and hope for a little Iron Bowl voodoo-magic along the way. The 2022 Iron Bowl kicks off Saturday, Nov. 26, at 2:30 p.m. CT on CBS.

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