Questions Auburn must answer to win the Iron Bowl against Alabama

Auburn (5-6, 2-5 SEC) goes into the Iron Bowl as a 22-point underdog against #7 Alabama (9-2, 6-1 SEC) and has a less than six percent chance of winning, according to ESPN’s College Football- power index.

Alabama is the better team in almost every statistical category and still has an outside chance of making the college football playoffs. It would take many disasters for Bama to get in, but it’s not impossible. An Auburn win removes all doubt as he books a bowl berth for the Tigers.

Cadillac Williams is 2-1 as interim coach and has a chance to become the first African American to win the Iron Bowl. Williams’ participation as the first black coach will make history. An unlikely win would sweeten Williams’ journey.

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The odds are against Auburn. However, there is a way to victory. Let’s explore how Auburn can beat Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first time in 13 years.

1. Auburn’s dedication to the running game works under Williams as head coach. Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter come out of 100-yard rushing games in victories over Texas A&M and Western Kentucky at Jordan-Hare. However, Alabama presents other challenges. Will Anderson leads one of the best defensive lines in college football for Bama.

“We have a challenge here,” Williams said. “But man, we’re looking forward to this opportunity and we’re going there to fight and compete and we’re looking forward to getting ready this week and seeing where the chips fall on Saturday.”

How Auburn continues its ground attack against strong territory for Alabama will tell the story of the game at Bryant-Denny.

2. Is Robby Ashford ready to shine on the big stage? Ashford threw for 285 yards on a touchdown and, most importantly, no interceptions in the Arkansas loss that preceded Bryan Harsin’s shot. Many saw it as a breakout game, but he threw for a combined 237 yards in the loss to Mississippi State and wins over Texas A&M and Western Kentucky.

“Robby continues to develop and grow as a quarterback. He’s doing a much better job running the show and getting us in the right checks. And look, I’ve been telling people, the kid hasn’t played ball in probably two or three years. This is his sixth or seventh game of big football and he’s just a little kid.”

Ashford is an integral part of Auburn’s running game with Bigsby and Hunter. It would also be easier for the running backs if Alabama had to take care of the looming forward pass.

3. Can Auburn slow down Bryce Young? The Tigers were less than two minutes from shattering Alabama’s dreams of making the college football playoffs and ending Young’s Heisman campaign at Jordan-Hare last season. Auburn’s defense kept Young at bay until that final drive of the fourth quarter and the eventual four overtime sessions that led to Alabama’s win.

4. Is Alex McPherson ready to make a big kick out of a compelling situation on the street? The freshman kicker missed his first kick after taking on Anders Carlson but made the last three, including a 51-yarder in last week’s win against Western Kentucky. Is he ready to agree on a potentially game-winning field goal as a freshman?

5. Is Williams ready for the head coaching spotlight? As of this writing, the job as head coach at Auburn is still open with Williams as an interim. He’s 2-1 as he rallies the fan base, donors, coaching staff and players since taking over. Coaching against Nick Saban is a challenge for the most experienced coach. Can Williams handle the pressure in his fourth game as head coach at any level?

“I salute the people who paved the way for this opportunity before me. God knows there are a lot of guys who look exactly like me who can actually do a damn good job in that seat. So I’m honored,” Williams said. “I’m just chopping wood and trying to win a ball game. That’s it. That’s all I’m concentrating on at the moment.”

Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for the Alabama Media Group