Tied for third in the country in rushing defense, allowing just 91.1 yards per game and five total touchdowns on the ground this season, with the exception of a game vs. Texas A&M the Crimson Tide defense has been the immovable object in the SEC in 2013.
The good news for the Tigers is that Auburn's offense has developed into the unstoppable force running the ball in this SEC this year. Currently third in the nation in that department, averaging 320.3 yards per game and trailing only Baylor in rushing touchdowns with 37 in 11 games, the Tigers have been a physical football team with quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason at the center of the attack.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee points out that just running the football won't be enough against Alabama and because of that the passing attack continues to be a focal point for the Tigers during the bye week practices.
Working out for the final time this week on Thursday evening before taking Friday and Saturday off, while the Tigers are looking for offensive balance, Lashlee pointed out the running game is this team's break and butter with a strong offensive line leading the charge.
"I think you'd probably need to wait until the end of the year to access final judgment, but I can tell you this, I think they're night and day where they are right now than when we got here," Lashlee said of the line.
"J.B Grimes, you can say it every week, he's done an incredible job physically with the fundamentals and the psyche of those guys up front," Lashlee said in reference to Auburn's first-year line coach.
Coach J.B. Grimes
"I think it would be hard to find an O-line playing better as a unit and as a group in the country somewhere, but those guys know they have got to bring it every week. It's just like the quarterback--they can't have an off week or we're not going to get the results we want. They do a great job in protection. We were able to throw the ball some the other night, which helped balance things out."
Led by junior center Reese Dismukes, the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his performance in Auburn's 43-38 victory over Georgia, the offensive line has paved the way for a dominating running game while allowing just 12 total sacks this season.
While he's not officially part of the front five, fullback Jay Prosch takes on the role of another lineman most of the time for the Tigers. The senior agreed with Lashlee's assessment of the line play.
"Every team that we go against, we get movement on," Prosch said. "I haven't seen anyone yet stop our offensive line from getting push.
"I really think that they've come together as a group, a little inside group, besides the whole team coming together," the fullback added. "They've really learned to work together and understand each other. It's just amazing to watch film and see how they work."
Jay Prosch is in his second season with the Tigers after transferring to AU from the University of Illinois.
While the offense prepares for the physical Alabama defense, Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's charges are preparing for one of the most balanced offenses anywhere in the country. Averaging 207.5 yards per game on the ground with running backs T.J. Yeldon and Kenyon Drake combining for 167.1 of that and 19 of the team's 21 rushing touchdowns, Alabama is still a powerful running team. The difficulty comes because of the continued emergence of the passing game.
Completing 67.5 percent of his passes for 222.8 yards and 21 touchdowns with only five interceptions, senior A.J. McCarron has a talented group of receivers to throw to as well with eight different players having double-figure catches. Johnson said this won't be the first time he's faced Alabama with Nick Saban as head coach, but this team is much different than the last time he saw the Crimson Tide.
"There are some similarities because I think it is their philosophy they want to control the football and take deep shots on early downs," Johnson said. "But after that it's very different from what I remember--not the personnel themselves, but the personnel groupings are somewhat similar to what they were four to five years ago.
"Past that they have more speed on the perimeter and in the backfield and back when I played them last time they had (Trent) Richardson and (Mark) Ingram, and they were big and physical," Johnson added. "The tight ends were bigger and more physical and they used them more in the lead game, the power game.
"There are some similarities from the last time I coached against them but there are some differences about their individual players. They really don't have a player you can take your eye off of at any particular time. All of them are capable of making plays and making big plays at any time."
The Tigers and Tide will kick off at 2:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday, Nov. 30th at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn will bring a 6-1 SEC record into the contest and will earn a trip to the SEC Championship Game if the Tigers can win an eighth consecutive contest.
Alabama, which is ranked No. 1 nationally, has yet to lose this season. The Tide is 7-0 in the SEC and 10-0 overall going into a home game on Saturday vs. Chattanooga.