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No. 1 Tide team has chance for special legacy, but tough Auburn challenge awaits (via Crimson Magazine)

21 Nov 2016 Stan J. Griffin

By Stan J. Griffin: November 21, 2016

Not many people who live in the state of Alabama have to be reminded of the significance of this week, especially for those who are even casual football fans.
It is officially Iron Bowl week, with No. 1 Alabama and No. 15 Auburn set to renew the nation's top college football rivalry Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Nick Saban's Crimson Tide team (11-0 overall, 7-0 in Southeastern Conference play) and Gus Malzahn's Tigers (8-3 overall, 5-2 in league play) are set to clash at 2:30 p.m, with CBS televising the 81st meeting of the archrivals.
And while much hoopla and intensity always surrounds the game in general, this game, of course, carries more weight for the top-ranked Alabama team, as all of its major goals are still in play.
This includes an unbeaten 15-0 season, and a repeat of both its SEC and College Football Playoff championships.  Alabama will also be looking for its third straight win over the Tigers, and its 24th consecutive victory overall.
During his press conference Monday, Saban noted that his team has a chance to cement its place as another very special Crimson Tide team with a strong closing stretch of games, but noted that it will not be easy for his squad against a talented and improved Auburn team.
"The focus needs to be on learning from (a sluggish win over Chattanooga this past weekend) in terms of how we can get better and also to move forward and look to the challenge that we have ahead of us, which is really, you know, the legacy of the season relative to what we can accomplish and what we can do, and the meaning of this game that we play against our rival in the state in the Iron Bowl," he said, noting  it will also be Senior Day on Saturday for a group that has compiled an impressive 48-5 record. "It is certainly a lot to look forward to, a lot to prepare for, a lot to get ready for. So that's where our focus needs to be. I think this is one of the greatest rivalry games in the country. I know it means a lot to a lot of people in this state as well as nationally and the competitors in the game.


"Auburn, I think is an outstanding team and (Malzahn) has done a really good job there since he's been there, but especially this year with how this team has developed an improved throughout the season. They've made adjustments throughout the year relative to issues they've had on their team, whether it be injuries or whatever. But they've still managed to score a lot of points, run the ball very effectively, they've been able to make explosive plays in the passing game. Their defensive has been probably as good as any defense that we've played against all year long. They're very good upfront, they've got good pass rushers. They create negative plays. They play good in the back end. They're very well-coached. (Defensive coordinator) Kevin (Steele) has done a really good job with them. I think (junior defensive lineman) Carl Lawson and (senior DL) Montravius Adams are especially a handful upfront. They do what they do on offense regardless of who plays quarterback, and they've been able to do that pretty effectively all year long, relative to how they've been able to run the ball on people and make explosive plays in the passing game. They've got probably one of the best placekickers in the country in (junior) Daniel Carlson, and this is a very, very good team."
Due to injuries and other factors, the Tigers have shuffled quarterbacks often this season, with sophomore Sean White, senior Jeremy Johnson and junior John Franklin III all seeing time behind center for Malzahn's squad.
Saban said he has seen impressive things from all three Auburn signal callers.
"Well, they're all a little bit different I think, but all very effective in terms of their style and how they play," he said. "You know Sean White probably was the most effective guy throwing the ball consistently to go with their running game, but also pulling the ball on some of the quarterback runs and made plays and was very efficient and effective. The other two guys are very athletic and very capable of running it at any time, scrambling at any time and making plays with their feet at any time and running the quarterback runs that they have in their offense as well as making plays passing, so I don't see a whole lot of difference in the guys, I don't like to compare people, but we all respect each and every one of their abilities to make plays at their position."
He added the effectiveness of the Tiger running game makes it challenging to defend some of the "shot passes" they take on the perimeter as well as some of Auburn's play action-type passing plays.
"You know one of the keys really is, how do you stop the run, but not do it at the expense of giving up explosive plays in the back end?" said Saban.
The 10th-year Tide coach also said that the Alabama offensive line will be severely tested by a very sound Auburn defensive line led by Lawson and Adams among others.
"I said Thursday night on my radio show that if I had to say what was the most improved part of our team, (the offensive line) was it,"  said Saban. "I don't think we played as well in this past game, and I certainly think we'll have to play a lot better in this game against the quality of people we're playing against to be effective. I think this is probably the best front that we've played against. This may be the best defense we've played against all year, and this is one of Auburn's better defenses, not to make comparisons, that we've played against since we've been here. I think it starts with their front guys because they're very dominant upfront, but they're good in all areas on their team and they play very well and they don't make a lot of mistakes."
Following the lackluster win over the Mocs at Bryant-Denny Stadium this past weekend, Saban noted in his postgame press conference that there were many lessons that could be learned from his team's showing.
He said Monday that he hopes his team will have a totally different mindset and work ethic heading into the Auburn game, and its closing stretch of games.
"I think if you're a good competitor, and you're not pleased with the way you played, you should respond and react to that, so how to balance all that and know what's better or worse, I really don't know," said Saban. "I know that as a coach, we just want to do everything we can to help our players play better, and none of them wanted to go out there and not play well. It's our responsibility to try to get them to play well, and if they don't, it's our responsibility to help them do that, and if they didn't, it's our responsibility that they didn't. I'm certainly not pointing the finger at any players. We just didn't play our best and to the standard we'd like to play to."
The UA coaching staff selected 12 Tide players as its players of the week following the Tide's 31-3 over the Mocs this past weekend.
Gehrig Dieter, Damien Harris, O.J. Howard and Cam Sims were selected on offense, Jonathan Allen, Tony Brown, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ronnie Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson on defense and Trevon Diggs, Keith Holcombe and JK Scott on special teams.
UA senior linebacker Reuben Foster was selected as one of five finalists for the prestigious Butkus Award, the Dick Butkus Foundation announced Monday morning. This is presented annually to the nation's top linebacker.
Three former Crimson Tide players, Derrick Thomas (1988), Rolando McClain (2009) and C.J. Mosley (2013) have previously won the award.
Former Tide player Reggie Ragland, now with the NFL's Buffalo Bills, was a finalist last season.

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