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Auburn enters Iron Bowl against red-hot Alabama team eager for another playoff run
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Auburn enters Iron Bowl against red-hot Alabama team eager for another playoff run

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Alabama Mississippi St Football

Alabama head coach Nick Saban leads his team to the field prior to their game against Mississippi State on Oct. 16 in Starkville, Miss.

If Auburn is going to have bragging rights come the final whistle Saturday, the Tigers will have to take care of an Alabama squad that seems to be clicking at the right time.

The Tigers (6-5, 3-4 SEC) hosts the No. 2 Crimson Tide (11-1, 6-1 SEC) at 2:30 p.m. in the 86th edition of the Iron Bowl. Auburn is eager to avenge a 42-13 loss in Tuscaloosa last November and continue its recent success against the Crimson Tide in Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Auburn has won its last two games in the series.

The Crimson Tide enters on a five-game winning streak, with the latest victory being a 42-35 thriller over Arkansas. Alabama head coach Nick Saban explained he liked how the offense created multiple explosive plays and controlled the game tempo, though he noted there were some critical mistakes along the way.

Given the seven-point win over Arkansas served as another example of Alabama maintaining control in tight games, Saban emphasized how valuable those adverse situations could be in the long run.

"You always have to respect the competitive character of the players, whether they have to make stops at the end of the game or we have to move the ball at the end of the game, whether it’s take the air out of it or score,” Saban said Monday. “These experiences are always beneficial, I think, and certainly, we’ve had our share of them this year.”

While Saturday’s Iron Bowl will be the first for Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin, Saban is a seasoned veteran in the rivalry as he enters his 14th edition having missed last year’s due to a positive coronavirus test.

Saban noted the Iron Bowl is one of the sport’s best rivalries, and he explained Jordan-Hare Stadium always stands as a difficult place to play. He pointed out the Crimson Tide players have understand that going into Saturday’s contest and do what they can to prepare for a raucous atmosphere.

The mission for Alabama gets a little easier given the recent performances of several Crimson Tide players, most notably quarterback Bryce Young.

Young has established himself as a true Heisman Trophy frontrunner with several strong outings down the stretch of his sophomore season. Alabama’s latest game against Arkansas might have been Young’s best, as he went 31-of-40 passing for a school-record 559 yards with five touchdowns to help the Crimson Tide top the Razorbacks 42-35.

"He’s played very well in most of the games this year,” Saban said of Young. “He’ll be the first guy to say there’s things he could have done better on the few plays he might have had an opportunity to do something different. But that’s the right kind of mindset to have to be able to continue to improve and make progress, which he’s always done a good job of.”

Saban praised this year’s Auburn team and pointed to the Tigers’ close losses and some unfortunate injuries as holding the team back from more success. He complimented quarterback TJ Finley and said running back Tank Bigsby is as good as they come in the SEC relative to his production before commending Harsin for building an Auburn offense that offers multiple looks that are difficult to defend.

Saban also credited the Tigers’ defense with playing well throughout the fall and being physical and aggressive.

As a veteran of the Iron Bowl at this point, Saban knows all too well the sting of a defeat – especially in a year where it was unexpected. Given Alabama enters Saturday’s showdown as double-digit favorites, you can rest assured Saban is reminding his players that being the favorite doesn’t amount to much in this rivalry.

“If you don't have success in this game, I don't care what else you accomplish in the season, there's always a ‘but.’ And what comes after ‘but’ usually isn't good,” Saban said. “This is a big game for us to be able to continue to try to build some momentum into the rest of the season.”

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