Saban Impressed With Marshall, Auburn Offense

Alabama coach Nick Saban discusses the difficulty in facing Auburn's offense and quarterback Nick Marshall.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.--When top-ranked Alabama takes on No. 4 Auburn this Saturday in the Iron Bowl to determine the SEC Western Division Champion, one of the highlights will be how the stifling defense for the Crimson Tide handles the potent Tigers and quarterback Nick Marshall. Entering the game averaging 320.3 yards on the ground and 499.9 yards of total offense per game along with scoring 39 points per contest, Auburn's offense is one that Alabama Coach Nick Saban said will present many challenges starting with Marshall.

"I think the guy has really played well all year long," Saban said. "I think he's playing his best football of the season of late, in terms of his confidence and executing the offense. Probably the number one challenge he presents is just his physical ability of being a phenomenal athlete who is a great runner with the ball, but also a guy who has got good touch and can make plays in the passing game.

"You certainly can't say ‘okay, we're just going to stop this guy running'. He's made a lot of big plays and he's an especially good deep-ball thrower. That in of itself creates a lot of issues and a lot of problems if you're a defensive player. I think the guy is one of the most talented guys in our league at his position even though his style may be a little bit different. Relative to what he does for them and their offense, he's as effective as anybody we'll play."

Leading an offense that has been grinding out the yards on the ground, Marshall is second on the team in rushing this season 823 yards and nine touchdowns, an average of 82.3 yards per game. Junior Tre Mason leads the way for the Tigers with 1,153 yards and 17 touchdowns and is averaging 5.5 yards per carry. As a team Auburn is averaging a lofty 6.4 yards per attempt this season on the ground.

While the skill players and offensive line obviously have had a lot to do with Auburn's success this season, Saban said one player that stands out to him if senior fullback Jay Prosch.

"Their fullback is a fullback," Saban said of Prosch. "He does a really, really good job of blocking. Even though there are still a lot of three-wideout sets, regardless of the personnel group they have in the game, their fullback is in the backfield and he has a blocking assignment on about every play. I think he does a really, really good job of executing for them.

"If you didn't have a guy that was a good blocker at fullback you wouldn't be able to have the success running even though they have very talented runners. You talk about a tough, physical guy. He doesn't get the ball much, but he sure does a good job of finishing, playing with toughness, blocking the right guy and blocking them the right way. You can't say enough about what that guy does for them."

Jay Prosch is a capable receiver, but does his best work blocking for the Tigers

Allowing just 91. 3 yards per game on the ground this season and just five rushing touchdowns, Alabama is among the national leaders against the run. Giving up over 100 yards rushing just four times in 2013 with Texas A&M's total of 164 the highest it has allowed this season, Alabama's defense faces a much different challenge this Saturday and Saban said the dimension that both Mason and Marshall bring for the Tigers just causes problems.

"Not to take anything away from either player, but Tre Mason to me is a really good, physical, can make you miss, is hard to tackle, very good inside runner," Saban said. "He also has the ability to bounce outside and make plays on the perimeter, which he's done on many occasions this year. He really churns and tries to get extra yards after contact, which I think is always a great sign.

"I think anytime you have a quarterback that is a threat that is sort of seeding the ball and can pull the ball or whatever, it makes the defense a little more cautious about being responsible for that guy" he added. "I don't think in any way that minimizes the quality of player that Tre Mason is, because he's a fantastic player, but at the same time it does make them a more difficult offense to defend."

Kickoff for Saturday's Iron Bowl showdown between Auburn and Alabama is scheduled for 2:30 with the game shown nationally on CBS.

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