AUBURN, Ala. — Alabama’s stated goals today are obvious to fans whether they’re in Tuscaloosa or Timbuktu: win the game, clinch the SEC West outright, get ready for the SEC championship game, keep those national championship hopes alive.
The narrative on the other side of the state would be simple enough: take all those things away from a hated rival.
Be aware, though: Auburn’s worrying about honoring its past, not about wrecking Alabama’s future.
“That would be a nice thing to be able to do. Our focus is really just playing in this game and what this game means as a whole,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “Because it’s history, the Iron Bowl.”
Today marks the 77th football matchup between Auburn (3-8, 0-7 SEC) and No. 2 Alabama (10-1, 6-1), the ninth in Tuscaloosa (Auburn has won seven of eight), and first at Bryant-Denny Stadium since the Tigers’ 28-27 thriller coming back from 24-0 down at the half in 2010.
Following the Tigers’ ensuing victories in the 2010 SEC and BCS national title games, the programs have since traveled separate routes. The rocky road culminates in this, the most lopsided matchup on paper in the series’ history and a potential win-or-get-canned proposition for Chizik and his assistants.
The Tigers’ players have politely declined to weigh in on the future of their embattled head coach. They know why they have to show up Saturday.
“We owe this to the Auburn family,” junior defensive end Dee Ford said. “My approach to it is I’m really playing for the people. I’m playing for the 80-year-old man who has been representing Auburn for so long, who bleeds orange and blue.”
Passion has been an iffy intangible recently, when Auburn got blown out of its own house by Texas A&M and Georgia, sending its own fans scurrying for the Jordan-Hare Stadium exits as soon as halftime.
“We’re tired of that because we’re better than that. We’re way better than that,” Ford said. “Especially this week, we’re going to come with a totally different mindset.”
True freshman Jonathan Wallace (Central) makes his fourth start, and second against a highly-touted SEC opponent. Tasked with a game manager role, he’s ensured a smooth transition by completing 62 percent of his throws and, over his last four games, averaging 159.5 passing yards.
“I think it’s been kind of an evolution that’s taken place over time — I can’t say that there’s one point that I said ‘wow, this guy’s the guy,'” Chizik said.
“It’s more of just watching his work ethic and all the things that he puts into it, and watching that transform into being productive on the field.”
It was pointed out to offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler that Texas A&M, the only team to beat Alabama this year, utilized its no-huddle offense early and often to wear down the vaunted Crimson Tide defense. Auburn has gone no-huddle in pieces this season, more so with Clint Moseley than Wallace.
Asked if he’s got anything planned in that facet Saturday, Loeffler smiled and slyly said, “We’ll see.”
Wallace has never before been present at an Iron Bowl. Yet he is set to embrace the moment.
“It’s one of the games that’s going to be remembered forever, no matter what year you played or what your part was,” Wallace said. “Ten, 20, 30 years from now, people are still going to be talking about it. It’s that important.”