Five things to watch during today’s SEC Championship

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It’s finally here!

The SEC Championship is a mere five hours away, and we’ll have a new champion tonight. Both teams matchup eerily well against each other.

Here are five things to watch in today’s championship game:

Related: SEC Championship Predictions

Havoc in the backfield: Whichever team creates more will have a huge advantage. Missouri leads the SEC with 37 sacks and 95 tackles for loss, while Auburn has made 25 sacks and 80 tackles for loss. That speaks to an athletic front four and linebackers being difference makers in the backfield and at the line of scrimmage. Winning first and second down for both defenses will prove key.

Special teams: There’s no denying Auburn has the best special teams entering today’s game. Everyone knows what Chris Davis did last week against Alabama, but he’s been very good all season as a punt returner. Punter Steven Clark has been good all season, but he was great against Alabama, pinning them deep in their own territory multiple times. Missouri’s special teams has to be good against Auburn to get the win. Punt returner Marcus Murphy is due for a big punt return, and place kicker Andrew Baggett has to be on his game. Although it’s a lesser-known aspect of the game, it can get teams beat in heartbreaking fashion.

Related: Current Auburn and Mizzou commits offer views of SEC Championship

Field position: This goes hand-in-hand with special teams. Both offenses are explosive and can score in limited plays, but when an offense is revolved around smashing the ball down a defense’s throats, it requires teams to sustain log drives. And it’s crucial for drives to be set up for success with great starting field position. Starting drives from the 20-yard line is much different than the 40. The margin of error is slimmer due to the lesser amount of plays that 20 yards requires. The field position battle is always fun to watch in championship games.

Big plays: So, knowing neither offense wants to sustain 15-play drives, both teams want to strike with big plays. Missouri’s three running backs are all averaging over 6.2 yards per carry. Auburn WR Sammie Coates averages 23.3 yards per catch. Mizzou WR L’Damian Washington averages 18.7 yards per catch, while Dorial Green-Beckham averages 14. Auburn has recorded 121 10-plus yard plays or more in the running game, while Missouri has recorded 91. These offenses are built around big plays in their own way.

Most important player: The defining player for either team is Missouri QB James Franklin. We know Nick Marshall and Auburn are going to get their yardage in the running game, but how will James Franklin answer? He’s been consistent all season long, and he has a favorable matchup with his power-forward wide receivers against smaller corners. Franklin has slowly, quietly and methodically been efficient all season, throwing 16 TDs and only four INTs.

Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

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