Matthew Speakman, sports editor of the The Crimson White, answered a few questions from The Auburn Plainsman ahead of Auburn’s showdown with Alabama this Saturday.
1. It has been discussed thoroughly, but can you give an update on Alabama's health, especially on the defensive side of the ball?
Well, they're still obviously very banged up, but linebackers Terrell Lewis, Christian Miller and Mack Wilson all practiced on Wednesday. Nick Saban was very cryptic with their status, basically saying they were a game-time decision. I would expect Lewis and Miller to play. They seem to be on the right track. Participating in practice is a good sign for them. Elsewhere, Minkah FItzpatrick will be a full go for Alabama, which is huge. He missed the Mercer game, but that seemed to be a precaution for this game.
2. If Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis are able to play for Alabama, what kind of impact do those two players have?
If they play, it will be big for Alabama, even if they are not 100 percent. It gives Alabama a lot of depth at that position, which is key when playing a team that can control the tempo like Auburn. They will also help a lot in the pass rush. Both Miller and Lewis are pass rushers. That is their main skill. It will allow Alabama to move guys around more, and will give them a solid rotation at linebacker. They haven't had that for a lot of the year. It will be big in a lot of areas, but mostly in the pass rush.
3. Calvin Ridley is the obvious playmaker for Alabama, but who are some other guys that could make a big impact Saturday?
Damien Harris is a guy that's delivered all year for Alabama. Getting him going would be big, but I'm going to go with Josh Jacobs. Jacobs is one of the more versatile backs Alabama has had in a while. Against Mercer and Mississippi State, he sparked the offense and picked up big gains to get them into a rhythm. Not only can he run, but he's also a big threat in the passing game. He's made a lot of plays this season catching the ball
4. What went wrong for Alabama in its struggle at Mississippi State, and what do the Crimson Tide have to do to fix those mistakes?
Mississippi State had a great game plan for Alabama. They slowed the game down to a crawl, and kept Alabama's defense on the field for as long as possible. The biggest thing was third downs. Alabama's defense was unable to get off of the field on third down. In this game, they have to get pressure on third downs and force Auburn to punt. They can't allow Auburn to come up with third and 10s or third and sevens.
5. What are the Crimson Tide's keys to the game Saturday?
Winning the battle upfront will win this game for either team. If Alabama can block Auburn's defensive line, which may be the best unit in the country, it will have a great chance to win. That's easier said then done, however. Jeff Holland and that line is ferocious. Still, that's the biggest key. Alabama's defense also has to get off the field on third down. So, winning the battle up front and getting some stops will be the main keys.
6. Score prediction?
I'm going to go, 34-28, Alabama, but this game is as much of a toss up as any game this season. Jalen Hurts has made big plays all season in big moments, and I expect him to make just enough of those to win the game for Alabama. This game, when these two teams are having season like they are having, is almost impossible to predict.