Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban is known for being almost unbeatable when his team has extra time to prepare for an opponent. Well, Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers will be hoping to muster up the same magic for Nov. 30's Iron Bowl.
Sitting at 10-1, Auburn's work is done and it will have an extra week off to prepare for its showdown with Alabama. The Tide aren't exactly set for a physically taxing matchup, as they'll play host to FCS foe Chattanooga this week.
However, while the Tide are spending a week preparing for that game, playing in that game, then recovering before starting the process over, AU will at home drawing up plans for the biggest game of the year.
So that Iron Bowl is gonna be pretty, pretty, pretty good.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) November 16, 2013
And the Iron Bowl will serve as the de facto SEC West Championship Game for the first time in the rivalry's history.— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) November 17, 2013
The week off proved to be the perfect framework for LSU's win over Alabama in the 2011 regular season. The Tigers had an extra week after beating Auburn on Oct. 22 before taking down the Tide on Nov. 5.
But will these Tigers be able to follow the same blueprint this year? It may depend on what they do with the gained time.
According to ESPN's Greg Ostendorf, Malzahn admitted that he and his staff have been sneaking some looks ahead at the looming test with UA. However, he said that the players are focused on improving themselves for the week and will begin preparations for next week at the usual time:
This week is really cleaning up ourselves and trying to get better at what we do. At the same time, we are peeking ahead. As coaches, we’re definitely doing that. But we’re really trying to worry a little bit more about ourself at this point and improve on what we do.
After an incredibly close call against Georgia, that seems like a wise choice. Auburn and Alabama are set up to play their annual Iron Bowl rivalry for the SEC West title, but that scenario was almost smashed last week.
The Bulldogs held a lead inside the final minute, but the Tigers connected on a miracle touchdown to escape with 43-38 win. While they were able to tally victory No. 10, the 532 total yards gained by Georgia is a cause for concern going forward.
In general, defense will be the biggest question for the Tigers in this contest. Auburn knows what it has on offense, and as Ostendorf reported, that will be one of AU's primary points of emphasis in this week off:
“If you look at the fourth quarter, we were up by 20 points and we had to have a long pass to win the game,” Malzahn said. “There were a lot of teaching moments in that fourth quarter that we’ve got to improve on moving forward.”
In that final quarter, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray torched the Tigers’ defense, throwing for 160 yards and two touchdowns. He orchestrated three long scoring drives in the last 12 minutes of the game.
“We all, as a team, had a breakdown here or there that led to some drives,” Johnson said. “Our players know that we’ve got to continue to improve to have any chance to beat Alabama.”
Even if the Tigers make a marked improvement on defense, they will still have their work cut out for them.
While 'Bama struggled last week against Mississippi State, the Tide remain the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason: They know how to win big games. UA rose to the occasion early in the year, topping Texas A&M, and did the same two weeks ago against LSU.
While the Tigers have posted several marquee wins, including one over the Aggies, they haven't proven that they have the same big-game killer instinct as the Tide.
On Nov. 30 at 3:30 p.m. ET at Jordan-Hare Stadium, they have a chance to change that.
A week off will certainly add to their chances, but a bye week won't keep 'Bama off the board. The Tigers will have to come out of the tunnel ready to do that themselves.