Iron Bowl 2013: Rushing stat key to this rivalry?

Since 1967 the team with more rushing yards has gone 39-7

By Dave Friedman
A rivalry is really just a competition with a fierce version often filled with antagonism. Any rivalry builds over time. As stakes rise so too does pressure. In sports, each play takes on an increased importance as rivals battle for pride and stature. What makes the Iron Bowl a giant among many other great traditions in college football are all of those things. Whether it be history, significance, or quality of play, Alabama vs. Auburn has become unrivaled among college football clashes.

Any time two Top 5 teams get together with the winner propelled to a conference title game, and one victory from a National Title tussle, while the loser is just that; left to lick their wounds and play in a lesser post-season game, the stakes are are high. When the two squads have the history that the Crimson Tide and Tigers have, things are magnified as high as they can go in the college football landscape.

This matchup is the first time Auburn and Alabama have played with a combined one loss or fewer since 1994 when both teams were unbeaten. That means today is the first time the Iron Bowl has been played on a campus site with this much on the line. Interestingly, since the game moved from a neutral site back to campuses, Alabama is 4-3 in Auburn, while the Tigers are 5-2 in Tuscaloosa. How close is the rivalry? Over the seven games at Jordan-Hare Stadium the Crimson Tide have averaged 36.6 points a contest while Auburn has managed 33.3 points per clash.

The other beautiful part of a huge rivalry is that fans are allowed selective memory. Sure, the opponent always has an equal retort, that’s history, there are two versions to every story. Nobody can take away Tiger fan’s glory of Bo Jackson’s 256 rushing yards, Pat Sullivan’s 317 passing yards, or Cadillac Williams’ exploits. Perhaps most of the Crimson Tide faithful on Saturday never saw Bobby Marlow play, but after a little pregame celebration, from the old timers to the cheerleaders, they’ll all swear they saw him rush for 233 yards against Auburn in 1951. The majority of fans legitimately watched Julio Jones catch 23 balls for 355 years over a three year span. If they weren’t old enough, or sober enough, every Alabama fan still knows the hash mark and wind conditions of Van Tiffin’s 52 yard game winning field goal in 1985.

It would be wrong to bring up Alabama and Auburn and not mention that Bear Bryant won 19 games in the rivalry. That’s nearly half of the Crimson Tide’s 42 victories over Auburn. The Tigers’ Shug Jordan was responsible for nine of Auburn’s 34 wins. No Alabama coach has ever lasted to see a fifth game against the Tigers if they failed to win at least two of their first four matchups.

If you are looking for one key that will help determine who wins this weekend, keep your eye on the ground game. Since 1967 the team with more rushing yards has gone 39-7. Alabama has just one victory in four-and-a-half decades while being out-rushed. The last time a team won the Iron Bowl when being out gained on the ground was Auburn’s 1997 victory.

It is unclear which team will rush for more yards, and what memory will be created that one side spends as much time as possible trying to forget while their rival put equal energy into making sure they remember every detail. What is certain is the passion, significance, and drama that will be uncoiled Saturday afternoon when the state and college football universe pause for three or four hours to focus on the best rivalry in sports.