SEC Game of the Week: #1 Alabama at #4 Auburn

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Let the anticipation continue to build for the biggest second-half game of the season and the decider for the SEC’s Wild West division. This marks the first time that both teams have entered in the top five during the BCS era.

Will this game live up to the hype as the most anticipated Iron Bowl ever?

Alabama leads the series 42-34-1, and Alabama has won two straight. But of the last 30 games, Auburn has won 16 of them.

Here’s what to watch for Saturday:

Wrecking title plans: Assuming FSU and Ohio State keep winning, Auburn could play spoiler for the SEC and the national championship. Still, a one-loss SEC Champion Auburn or Mizzou stands a strong chance to jump Ohio State, but I just don’t think voters will allow that to happen knowing they want anyone other than the SEC to win another championship.

Related: SEC Bowl Projections

How Auburn can pull the upset: It certainly can happen. In order to beat Nick Saban – and Auburn has the offense to do it – there are two critical factors that weigh heavy in my mind. First, the Tigers have to win the turnover battle. In Alabama’s seven losses over the last five years, the Tide haven’t won the turnover margin in any of those. So, it’s imperative for Auburn to take care of the football on offense, and they must force turnovers on defense and special teams. Second, Nick Marshall must make plays down the field in the passing game. Auburn’s running game has been dominant, but it’s going to take more than a running game to beat Alabama. The Tide’s corners are the biggest liability on defense, and Auburn has to exploit them. Staying balanced on offense while making some big throws and winning the turnover battle is a must if Auburn wants to pull the upset and throw the BCS in disarray.

Related: Compare Alabama and Auburn team stats

Heisman moment: If AJ McCarron will win the Heisman, he has to have a Heisman moment Saturday. McCarron is sitting at No. 3 behind Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel, but his stock is on the rise, especially with how Manziel faltered and with Winston’s serious allegations off the field. McCarron is sitting at 2,399 yards, 23 TDs and five INTs. The numbers aren’t eye gouging, but in a year where there are so many questions with Heisman contenders, McCarron’s career could be the safe pick.

Marshall factor: Nick Marshall will have to play his best game of the year against Alabama. We know his legs will play a major impact, but, as mentioned earlier, he’ll have to make big plays down the field against the Tide’s secondary. Marshall completed 15 of 26 passes against Georgia for 229 yards and one TD, obviously 73 yards and the only TD coming on one of the craziest plays we’ll see all year. Johnny Manziel threw for 253 yards and two TDs last year. Knowing Alabama’s cornerbacks are the biggest questions on defense, Marshall will have to expose the Tide’s secondary in order to score with the Tide’s offense. Marshall will be the most defining and weighty player on field Saturday.

Bend but don’t break vs. dominant: Alabama and Auburn’s defenses rank 1st and 5th, but total defensive yards tell a different story. The Tide have been dominant, only allowing opponents to score 9.3 points per game and only yielding opponents 264 total yards per game. Auburn’s defense is playing great in the red zone and is only allowing offenses to score 22 points per game, while giving up over 400 yards of total offense. The biggest matchup to watch will be Auburn’s rushing attack (averaging over 320 yards per game) against Alabama’s run defense (only giving up 91.27 yards per game). Which defense brings their A-game Saturday?

Great staffs: We know Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and Doug Nussmeier, along with the rest of the assistants, are a great staff, but Auburn’s big three of Gus Malzahn, Rhett Lashlee and Ellis Johnson have done a fantastic job this season, too. Each team will be well prepared, and each staff will have something special for the other one. I can’t wait to watch the chess match between Malzahn and his offense against Saban and his defense.

Getting special: All the talk surrounds the running game and the quarterbacks, along with the defenses, but both special teams units have been spectacular all season. Auburn’s Chris Davis and Alabama’s Christion Jones rank first and second in punt returns, with Davis averaging 22.45 yards per return and Jones 14.2. Jones has the upper hand having returned two punts for touchdowns, compared to Davis’ one. Jones also leads the SEC, averaging 30.25 yards per kickoff return with one touchdown. Special teams is often overlooked, but field position will be critical come Saturday.

Photo Credit: John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE

REFERENCES

COMMENTS

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  • Auburn has a lot going for them: a bye week beforehand, a huge emotional win over another rival in UGA the week before that, and home field advantage, to name a few things. Unfortunately for Auburn, it all means nothing, the magic runs out, and Bama wins this one soundly without ever being really challenged.

    • It depends on which Alabama team takes the field. If it is the team that went out against LSU, Alabama will take this one with ease. If it is the same team that has been on the field the last two saturdays, they’re going to have to fight and AJ McCarron is going to have to show if he’s got half the heart that Aaron Murray had to fight back into a game that he shouldn’t have had to take a loss for a week and a half ago. A 49-0 win over Chattanooga looks good when the ticker goes by on Sportscenter, but the offense is all but clicking right now. They looked about as bad as they did against VA Tech in that game in Starkville against the crimson bulldogs. I don’t count the chickens before they hatch anymore, I did that last season and Manziel won a Heisman in Tuscaloosa.

      • I wouldn’t put too much stock into the past two performances by Bama. This is Auburn, the team they hate more than any other. The only team between them and another appearance in the SECCG and, if they win that, another BCS title. I’m not stupid enough to guarantee Bama wins, but I will guarantee they come out focused and won’t look the same as the past two weeks.

  • My unbiased opinion is that this game lives up to the hype and is decided in the 4th quarter. It will be physical and the team that controls the tempo in the second half wins it. I don’t know about you guys but we are in for a heck of a ball game. Clear your schedules on Saturday afternoon, its going to be one for the ages.

  • Auburn needed a miracle to win against a busted up Dawgs team that has sub-par defense. Add to that their one-dimensional offense and I don’t think this one is much of a competition.

    • What makes you think Auburn will just not show up for the Iron Bowl at home? UGA was down by 20 going into the 4th quarter and needed a heisman like effort from Murray just to get a 1 point lead. The way you make it sound is that AU beat UGA 6 to 3 on a lucky TD. The 400 yrds rushing and other 39 points were not lucky.

      • That’s the point!! They were up 21 on a busted up GA team, but they still needed a miracle to beat them! I think the Tide will weather the first quarter of trick plays, adjust and manhandle Auburn for 2 and a half quarters!! People keep referring to 09 and 10 Iron Bowls!! There are 2 differences McElroy<Mccarron/Marshall<Newton!!

      • You just made their point. Nothing Auburn did before the lucky catch mattered. The only way they won was with an extremely lucky bounce. A win is a win but that type of win is one youdon’t brag about. Simply say it was a helluva game and both teams played hard. If anyone relies on something like that to happen to win they will be very disappointed.

  • I’m a huge Bama fan, and as much as I’d like to be able to say, “I think Bama will run away with this one,” you have to remember, this IS the Iron Bowl. What you’ve seen from these teams the rest of the year isn’t really an indicator (okay, not counting last year) of what you can expect on the field in this game. This is a blood-and-guts, leave it all on the field kind of game for the players and the coaches. Both teams will come prepared.
    I think we’re going to see a very physical game with some awesome hits and “Did-that-really-just-happen?” kind of plays. It’s going to be exciting, but I predict the Tide will win it in the end, probably in the 4th quarter.

  • Auburn and Alabama both entered into the 1994 Iron Bowl undefeated, although Aubie had actually ended in a tie (23-23) with UGA the previous week. The game lived up to the hype, with the final scoring finding Bama victorious, 21-14. Due to probation, that would be Auburn’s final game of the season. Alabama would lose to Florida in the SEC Championship by one point, which knocked them out of title contention. The Tide would later beat #13 Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl. This game has a similar back story, which is why I decided to inform all who take the time to read through my rambles. Enjoy! (?)

  • High scoring game, I think. You all have not seen Marshall practice everyday like I have, he has a monster arm. However, there is no point in higher percentage turnover throws if you average over 300 rushing yards a game. It won’t happen against Alabama like that, and you will see Marshall’s capabilities as a passer.

    41-38 – The victor will be the team that wins the turnover battle.

    WAR EAGLE!

    • You do not see him practice every day, you don’t have to make things up. Instead of making you look important telling stories makes you look silly. Not one pro or person except you have Auburn being dominant in the throwing game, paleazzzzze. Bamas defense is three times better than his throwing ability so I hope he does try to throw the ball. There is not one category Auburn isbetter than Alabama——NONE.

    • Auburn will not get anywhere near 38 points. Put down the drinks and drugs.

  • Malzahn has been impressive this year with what he’s done for Auburn. Obviously should be coach of the year. Makes you wonder what was going on with Chizik.
    On paper, this is a bad matchup for Auburn. They live by the run game, and Bama is built to shut down the run game. I expect Malzahn to try to throw early on to open up the run. So it will come down to Marshall’s ability to throw. He’s had some bad passing performances but I’ve seen him throw some decent passes against the likes of A&M.
    Ultimately, I think it comes down to whether or not Auburn’s D can shut down the balanced attack of Alabama. Bama has so many offensive weapons and I expect AJ to have a big day.

  • Alabama will be too much for the Auburn. Alabama turns it on when they want to. Just look at their season. VT turned it up in the 4th and won vs Ole Miss turned it on the entire game and blanked them vs LSU turned it on early in the 3th Quarter and won by 3 TDs. They just win and that makes people overlook what they are capable of. Offense and Defense belong to Alabama in the Iron Bowl.