Only in a win over South Carolina has Auburn's defense been a shining point for the Tigers against a quality opponent. Because of that sophomore Jeff Whitaker said it's up to the defensive line to get the job done against an Alabama offense that will run the ball over and over again.
"It's going to some mental toughness," Whitaker said of facing the running game all day long. "The deal is when you're playing this position, the noseguard and that three technique, that's the only reason why you play. That's what you want. It's going to be 'mano y mano,' smashmouth, win-lose, just going at each other, getting knocked down, getting back up, hitting them again. Stick with it, keep playing through the highs and lows."
Just looking at the numbers it appears to be an uphill battle for the Tigers as Alabama averages 220.5 yards per game on the ground while Auburn is giving up 193.1 per game themselves. When you look a little closer at the numbers, however, the Tigers do have some hope. Alabama struggled running the ball against LSU, which is not a surprise, but Tennessee and Vanderbilt also held them in check somewhat with less than 300 yards combined on the ground in those two wins.
The problem has come when teams overload too much to stop the running game and allow A.J. McCarron and the offense to hit on some big plays in the passing game. Against Vanderbilt he threw for four touchdowns and he passed for nearly 300 yards against the Vols. Corey Lemonier said it's the job of the guys up front to slow down the running game and make them have to throw to win.
"It just keeps you on your toes because they'll run, run, run and then throw it over your head," Lemonier said. "Basically, you've just got to stop the run and make them one-dimensional. That's what we're trying to do, make them one-dimensional.
A three-touchdown underdog at home, a place where they haven't lost in two years, the Tigers have plenty of reasons for motivation this week facing their biggest rival. Whitaker said despite the fact people are telling them they don't have a chance he knows his team is going to be ready. Playing for Auburn and facing Alabama is the biggest game of the season each year and Whitaker said they're going into this year's game like any other and that is with the expectation to win.
"This is the Super Bowl of the state right here," Whitaker said. "There's no pro teams, there's none of that. There's Auburn and Alabama. It's a big, a huge deal for whoever wins this game.
"I'm a football player. I'm a competitor. The last time I checked, the game hadn't been played yet. We have a chance."
Lemonier backed up the thoughts from his teammate and said the positive for this Auburn team is that no matter what they've been through this season they'll always have the memory of what happened last year in Tuscaloosa to give them an extra boost of confidence. He said because of that they'll go into Saturday's game looking to win once again.
"The guys that played from last year know how to win and know how to beat them," Lemonier said. "We're just going to try to do it again."