While a lot has happened this season, the 85th meeting between Alabama and Auburn will take place Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
“We're excited to go there and play. I know our kids and our coaches are really looking forward to this,” said Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.
Last year, the No. 16 Tigers beat No. 5 Alabama inside Jordan-Hare 48-45. This year, the Tigers go into the matchup ranked No. 22, with the Tide ranked No. 1.
However, to Malzahn, there is no underdog mentality headed into arguably college football’s biggest regular-season game.
“Well, I mean, I think that's one of the reasons you come to Auburn is to play in the Iron Bowl,” Malzahn said. “And, you know, our guys, they get extremely excited about this game. This is a game that we think about 365 days a year.”
As Auburn's head coach, Malzahn has three Iron Bowls victories and is one of the most successful coaches against Nick Saban.
Malzahn and Les Miles are the only active coaches in the NCAA to have beaten Saban three separate times. When asked if there is a common thread between those three victories, Malzahn feels that success in the fourth quarter is crucial.
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“Yeah, you look at the times we won, our guys have made plays,” Malzahn said. “When we've won, it's the fourth quarter. We've done extremely well in the fourth quarter. So that's probably the key.”
Alabama has the second-best offense in the SEC headed into the Iron Bowl matchup averaging 548.57 yards per game. Malzahn will look toward his red zone defense to stifle the Alabama scoring attack. Nationally, Auburn’s red zone defense is ranked 47th.
“We've had three interceptions in the end zone. Of course, two of them were taken back 100 yards for a touchdown — one was called back," Malzahn said. We've been very opportunistic down there. Our defense, as the field condenses, has done a super job, so we've got to continue that."
On offense, the Tigers will look to build off of Bo Nix’s freshman performance against Alabama. Nix was 15-of-30 for 173 yards with two total touchdowns in last season's 48-45 victory over the Crimson Tide.
Nix has experienced some growing pains in his sophomore year, but his coach is confident that his quarterback can get the job done again.
“He's playing extremely well right now," Malzahn said. "I think you've seen him grow and get better each game. He's still learning a new coordinator and a new offense, and you've seen him grow. I think he's in a good spot here finishing the season now.”
Regarding injured players, Malzahn announced that K.J. Britt will not play in the Iron Bowl while still recovering from thumb surgery. Freshman running back Tank Bigbsy was “still questionable” by his coach after injuring his hip against Tennessee.
The Iron Bowl is hardly comparable to any other college football game. Whether it’s the Kick Six or the Whistle Kick, there will always be something crazy to happen in this historic rivalry, and Malzahn knows it.
“Yeah, I mean, this isn't a normal game," Malzahn said. "This is the Iron Bowl."
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