Behind Enemy Lines: The Plainsman’s Nathan King previews 2018 Iron Bowl


Ben Stansell, Assistant Sports Editor

No.1 Alabama ends its regular season with the Iron Bowl. Last year, Auburn upset the Crimson Tide with a 26-14 win. Now, the Crimson Tide will try and avenge its only loss from last season.

Ben Stansell caught up with Nathan King, the sports editor of The Plainsman for a behind-the-scenes look at the Crimson Tide’s biggest rival.

Q: The Iron Bowl will always be a passionate matchup. How do you think Auburn’s players, coaches and fans will view this year’s rivalry game knowing that it doesn’t hold the same importance that it has in recent years?

A:  I think Auburn’s fans have certainly accepted defeat, but the team hasn’t.

That’s not to say I’m predicting Auburn to be very competitive in this game. The fans have gotten used to the Iron Bowl only meaning something in the SEC West race every few years, so this is nothing new. I expect the orange and blue faithful to represent well inside Bryant-Denny and cheer till the bitter end, though, considering it might be the last time they’ll see their Tigers in person this year.

Q: What are some important matchups that will be crucial in deciding the outcome of the game?

A: Auburn’s inconsistent offensive line will need to handle Quinnen Williams and company. They’ve been stronger on the edges than the middle, so Williams should have a big day if he can get push early, which most teams have against Auburn. Aside from the Tigers’ putrid offensive line, I’ll go with Auburn’s D-line against Alabama’s front. Miss State was able to have some success getting to Tua Tagovailoa, and I view Auburn’s front seven as being more talented than the Bulldogs at this point in the season.

Q: How important is running back JaTarvious Whitlow to what Auburn does on offense?

A: Gus Malzahn has sort of learned to live without Whitlow. After a season-best outing at Ole Miss, Whitlow has been banged up and has been of little use in the backfield since. That’s concerning, considering Auburn’s best running back after him may be another freshman, Shaun Shivers. The Tigers’ stable of backs haven’t lived up to the hype, evident in that the team may miss out on a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in 10 seasons. Recent offensive gameplans have relied heavily on the arm of Jarrett Stidham, and I don’t expect that to change against a nasty ‘Bama D-line.

Q: Auburn’s offensive line has been under scrutiny this season, as many have blamed it for the Tigers’ drop in rushing production. How do you think it will fare against a formidable Alabama front seven?

A: Not well. There’s not much reason to be confident in Auburn against Williams, Isaiah Buggs and the other characters up front for the Tide. Kaleb Kim has helped since reclaiming the starting center role two weeks ago. However, the Tigers are dealing with an injury at right guard to Mike Horton, which Malzahn has yet to comment on.

Q: With that being said, what will the blueprint be for Auburn to move the ball against Alabama?

A: A strong run game will be necessary to set up play-action with Stidham. When the rushing attack gives Stidham some comfort pushing the ball downfield, he’s been successful, thanks to some electric freshman receivers. Lots of touches for those youngsters is vital, too.

Q: Mississippi State found success putting pressure on Tua Tagovailoa and even sacked him four times. Auburn is second in the SEC in sacks. Do you think the Tigers’ defensive front will be able to harass Tagovailoa in the backfield?

A: Yes, and no. Tagovailoa has uncanny ability to evade defensive linemen, and that’s been a big issue for Auburn – finishing off sacks. Other than that category, the Tigers D-line has been nothing short of fantastic. Give me three sacks on Tagovailoa, but it won’t end up mattering.

Q: Auburn beats Alabama if?

A: Tagovailoa has his worst game of the year and the Damien Harris injury proves detrimental. Auburn isn’t going to put up many points, so it will need Alabama to suffer offensively, as well. In my opinion, the Tagovailoa struggles might be more likely than lack of a run game for Alabama.

Q: What is your score prediction, and what is your rationale behind it?

A: I’ve got Alabama running away, 42-21, with Auburn scoring a garbage-time touchdown. This is easily the Tide’s biggest home game of the season, not to mention Senior Day. I expect Auburn to come out with lots of fight, but not enough to keep up with the best team in the nation.