Unfortunately, the 85th edition of the Iron Bowl went about like I expected it to go. I did believe the Tigers would score more points and be able to move the football a little more efficiently, but the final score of 42-13 wasn’t surprising. Alabama is a much better team than Auburn in 2020 and they proved it.
The Tide’s offensive and defensive lines controlled the game and dictated terms on both sides of the ball. Najee Harris continually had open lanes to run through and Mac Jones was given enough time to survey the field letting deep routes develop. The Alabama offense looks practically the same against every team they play. That is a sign of a great offense. They don’t take what the defense gives them. They give the defense whatever they want them to take. On the other hand, all the Auburn running backs found at the line of scrimmage was a gang of crimson jerseys. Bo Nix was constantly under duress which throws off the timing and disorients the passing game.
The Auburn defense was far superior in 2019 than in 2020, but gave up 38 points (seven came on a kickoff return) in last year’s Iron Bowl at home. The Auburn offense certainly wasn’t any better in 2019 than it was this year, but scored 34 points (14 came off INT’s) against the Tide a year ago. Is Alabama simply that much better as a team in 2020? I don’t believe it is. They’re better to be sure, but not that much better. To be honest, I can’t account for the vast discrepancy in the two games, other than the location. I’m definitely not saying the Tigers would have won if the game had been played in Jordan-Hare, but it’s a safe bet they would have played a lot better. Under Gus Malzahn, Auburn does its best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when it comes to playing at home and on the road. It’s just yet another mysterious, maddening characteristic of these Auburn teams over the last eight years.
In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2014 to find a notable road victory. The Tigers defeated No. 7 Ole Miss in Oxford, 35-31. They have a couple of neutral site victories over Washington and Oregon and wins over mediocre Texas A&M teams, but there’s arguably not a single truly impressive road win since 2014. Malzahn is 0-12 in Tuscaloosa, Athens and Baton Rouge in his tenure.
Malzahn has seemingly been on the hot seat since 2015 in varying degrees of heat, but a blowout loss in the Iron Bowl always intensifies the situation. Generally, most people felt even struggling coaches would get a pass in 2020, but two SEC top dogs have already lost their jobs this year. Will Muschamp had a losing record at South Carolina in five years and the program obviously wasn’t moving forward. Those same Gamecocks beat Auburn by the way. Derek Mason never posted a winning season in seven years at Vanderbilt. Malzahn’s resume at Auburn is a lot more complicated and there is that pesky $21 million buyout.
The Tigers will be back home, where they’re far more comfortable, to face No. 5 Texas A&M on Saturday. The Aggies are good, but certainly not overwhelming despite their ranking. I do not believe the Auburn administration has any intention of making a change, but another ugly loss could force them to entertain the possibility.
Andy Graham is a longtime weekly columnist for The Outlook.