Auburn has just one regular-season game remaining on its schedule before it gets seeded for next week’s SEC Tournament.
That last game? None other than a road trip to Tuscaloosa to face the University of Alabama in a rivalry game on Thursday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m CST.
"You love playing your biggest rival at the end of the year. There's so much on the line,” said Auburn head coach Karen Hoppa. “You're playing, in my opinion, in the biggest rivalry in college athletics. It's exciting, it's fun. It's a great way to end our regular season. We know it's going to be a really tough contest, but we're going to be hungry."
With a win or a tie against its rival on Thursday, Auburn will secure a top-six seed and a bye in the upcoming SEC Tournament.
Alyssa Malonson recorded her 93rd career start in Auburn’s road tie with Ole Miss on Sunday. An Auburn program record that will only continue to grow when she steps on the pitch to take on the Tide. The Houston, Texas, native is a one-on-one machine that has a sudden burst to match the speed of any oncoming attacker. Not many Tide players are going to get past Malonson when attacking her head-to-head.
Auburn slipped past Ole Miss on the road on Sunday with a tie partly because of contributions from Sydney Richards and Auburn’s leading point scorer, Anna Haddock.
Haddock did it all herself and scored an unassisted goal to put the Tigers up 1-0 over the Rebels in the early part of the match, her first goal in six games. Alongside her on the attack is Richards, who has scored in every other Auburn match dating back to late September.
Following a scoreless loss to Arkansas, the junior forward kept that trend alive against Ole Miss with a streaking header in the 47th minute that pushed the Tigers out front to a 2-1 lead. While the lead didn’t hold, it was huge for the Tigers to get Haddock and Richards back into a scoring feeling with the SEC Tournament just a week away.
Alabama has two players tied for the team-leading goal scorer, each with five goals. Ashlynn Serepca heads the Tide offense with 35 shots on the season, while Kate Henderson is the more accurate shot taker at an impressive 0.79 shot on goal percentage.
Riley Tanner has proved to be a go-to clutch player for Alabama, scoring three game-winning goals as her only three goals scored of the season. While she may not hit the net often, her shots sure do count a lot on the win and loss column.
Keys to the Game
Breaking through Auburn’s back line will be paramount for the Tide to notch a home win against a ranked Tiger squad.
The Tigers have allowed just 15 goals scored in 16 games played, holding opponents to just under 10 shots a match with their aggressive mark-up defense. While it was one of the best in the conference in the early portion of the season, injuries have forced the Tigers to shift players around and try to grow chemistry with little time remaining before tournament play.
Maddie Prohaska is one of the best goalkeepers in the SEC as she leads the conference in total shutouts. If the Tide want to score on the talented Prohaska, they have to flood the box with bodies and hope for a pop out ball that can be turned into a second-chance goal. That’s where Arkansas found early success against the Tigers.
Auburn’s offense needs to get out to a fast-scoring start to limit the pressure in a second-half rivalry game. The Tigers have yet to get a win in three out of their last four SEC road games and will look to put on a strong performance in its last road test nearing the neutral-site games of the SEC Tourney.
Specified shots are what the Tigers should focus on in this final unranked matchup.
Auburn has made it clear that its players can get numerous shots off in most every matchup, but the quality of those shots is something Hoppa touched on after a scoreless first half against Florida.
“It wasn’t really adjustments, it was just talking to the team about shot selection and serve selection. I felt our shot selection in the first half wasn’t great,” Hoppa said after a scoreless first half against Florida. “We wanted to have more success getting the ball in behind the backs where you’re gonna get better looks at goals...We weren’t doing a good job in the first half.”
If Auburn can slow down on the offensive side of the ball and play a similar stop-and-go style game like the one Arkansas played against the Tigers, it could stand to generate many more solid scoring opportunities than it already has.
One thing to note: Alabama is undefeated at home this season in SEC play. A win for the Tigers could be a big confidence booster entering the long-awaited tournament weekend.
Iron Bowls of the Past
Auburn owns the all-time series against Alabama.
The Tigers hold a commanding 19-9-2 record over its in-state rival, suffering only two losses at the feet of the Tide in the past decade.
The Iron Bowl of Soccer has been played since the year Auburn soccer was incepted in 1994, with the first game between the two schools ending in a 0-0 tie in Tuscaloosa. The first time the Tigers and the Tide played in Auburn just one year later, the Tide had a long ride home after suffering a 5-2 defeat at the feet of the Tigers.
Alabama saw success from 1996 to 1999 when it beat the Tigers five times in a row, but the momentum then shifted back in the favor of Auburn, which rode a seven-game win streak from 2012 to 2019.
More recently, Auburn found itself on the short end of the stick when it was sent home from the SEC Tournament in 2019 by Alabama, but reclaimed glory back in Tuscaloosa last year when it beat the Tide 2-1 for the most recent matchup by the two teams.
No. 19 Auburn (11-4-1) travels to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama (9-8-1) for the annual Iron Bowl on Thursday, Oct. 28 with kickoff set for 7 p.m. CST on SECN+.
The Tigers will find out their seeding and opponent for the first game of the SEC Tournament in Orange Beach, Alabama, following their outcome with the Tide and the rest of Thursday’s SEC matchups.
The first game of the tournament is lined up for Sunday, Oct. 31 at 1:00 p.m. CST. The full slate of games based on team seedings can be found here.
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Larry is a senior studying journalism with a minor in sociology. He is from Enterprise, Alabama and is in his third year with The Auburn Plainsman.