Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

November 21, 2018 at 1:45 am.

Malzahn: Tigers need big plays vs. Bama

The key to Auburn’s offense in Saturday’s Iron Bowl against No. 1 Alabama?

“You’ve got to have big plays,” Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said. “If you’re going to have a chance to beat them, we have to have big plays. Whether it’s in the run game or pass game, it doesn’t matter. That’s the formula.

“And you’ve got to be good on third down. Last year we were really good on third down, and that was a big difference. That will be a big key — third down and keeping drives alive and giving us more opportunities. That’s going to be a big key.”

The Crimson Tide (11-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) has steamrolled through its schedule, winning by an average score of 49-13, and looks to be headed for a fifth consecutive appearance in the College Football Playoff. The Tide is considered a heavy favorite over Malzahn’s Tigers (7-4, 3-4 SEC).

But the Tigers were underdogs against Bama in 2013 and emerged with a 34-28 victory when Chris Davis returned Bama’s missed field goal attempt 100 yards for the deciding touchdown.

Last year Auburn was an underdog again but beat the Tide 26-14 to win the SEC West.

“It’s the Iron Bowl,” Malzahn said. “We don’t have to bring anything up. This is a game our guys look forward to, their guys look forward to. When we beat them the last two times, we probably weren’t the favorite so we’ll see what happens.

It’s a matter of being prepared.

“You’ve got to raise your level in this game,” Malzahn said. “You’ve got to raise your level and you’ve got to find a way to get it done, and you’ve got to be balanced to have a chance to beat them.

“We know each other very well, and we know what we’ve got to be able to do. But you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to raise your level to be able to do it.”

Malzahn said beating Bama last year “means a whole lot.”

“We do have a bunch of players that played last year,” he said. “Any time you play the Iron Bowl, really what stands out to me is it’s a physical test on both sides. It’s football at its highest. The fact that we’ve got a lot of guys that have been a part of it does nothing but help us this year, especially going on the road.”

Linebacker Deshaun Davis said he has been devoting extra preparation time for the game since last week’s 53-0 rout of Liberty.

“My team is pretty fired up,” he said. “We know what’s at stake. We know the talent that they have. We know the respect level they have for us also.

“It’s the Iron Bowl. They don’t like us, we don’t like them. It’s going to be a physical game, it’s going to be a pretty good game. I’m excited to compete in it.”