StatTiger: Previewing SEC Championship Game

Stuart Carter previews the Auburn-Missouri game and looks to go 13-0 for the season on his Auburn predictions.

No. 3 Auburn 11-1 (7-1) vs. No. 5 Missouri 11-1 (7-1) at the SEC Championship Game, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Series Record: 1-0-0 (Missouri)

Last Meeting: 1973 Sun Bowl (Missouri, 34-17)

About the teams:

Neither team was expected to win its division, but both have compiled remarkable turnarounds in one season. Auburn is coming off a victory over No. 1 ranked Alabama to win the West Division and Missouri defeated Texas A&M to clinch its divisional title.

Veteran coach Gary Pinkel is 174-99-3 overall and 101-62-0 at Missouri. Gus Malzahn is 20-4 overall and 11-1 as head coach at Auburn.

Auburn is currently No. 15 nationally in total offense and No. 75 in total defense. Missouri is No. 17 in total offense and No. 52 in total defense.

Auburn is No. 5 nationally in run offense and will face a Missouri defense ranked No. 14 against the run.

Missouri is No. 14 in scoring offense vs. Auburn's defense, which is ranked No. 31 in points allowed. Auburn is No. 17 in scoring offense vs. Missouri, which is ranked No. 14 in scoring defense.

James Franklin leads Missouri's passing attack with 1,952 yards and a QB rating of 153.2. Franklin is a dynamic runner with 412 yards rushing at 4.5 yards per carry.

James Franklin is a key performer for Mizzou.

Auburn's Nick Marshall enters the game with a QB rating of 140.3 with 922 yards rushing at 6.6 yards per carry.

The Missouri Tigers have the second best rushing offense in the conference behind Auburn led by Henry Josey, who has 951 yards on the season and 13 rushing touchdowns. Russell Hansbrough (624 yards) and Marcus Murphy (561 yards) provide quality depth.

Tre Mason leads Auburn in rushing with 1,317 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. Corey Grant has 585 yards at 9.7 per carry.

Missouri has three wide-receivers with more than 40 receptions this season. L'Damian Washington has 44 with 10 touchdowns while Dorial Green-Beckham has 49 receptions and 10 touchdowns. Marcus Lucas leads the trio in receptions with 50.

Auburn's Sammie Coates leads the nation yards per reception (23.3) along with six touchdowns from 32 catches. Ricardo Louis has 25 receptions for the season and is a threat to run the football on the perimeter.

Sammie Coates is a big-play threat for Gus Malzahn's team.

Linebacker Andrew Wilson leads Missouri in tackles with 87. Michael Sam is one of the top defensive ends in the nation with 18 tackles for loss and 10 1/2 sacks.

Senior cornerback Chris Davis leads Auburn in tackles with 65 and is a game-changing return specialist. Dee Ford has 12.0 tackles for loss, including eight sacks, followed by junior tackle Gabe Wright with 8 1/2 tackles for loss.

Inside the Numbers...

*Auburn is No. 9 offensively in generating impact plays vs. a Missouri defense ranked No. 17 in preventing them. Missouri is No. 16 in generating offensive impact plays vs. an Auburn defense ranked No. 68 in allowing them.

*Of the 18 major statistical categories, Auburn holds an edge over Missouri in 10. Auburn's average national ranking in the 18 categories is 35.7 and Missouri's ranking is 38.4.

*Missouri has a major advantage In turnover margin. Auburn's major advantages are rushing offense, kick returns, net punting, punt return defense and punt return offense.

*Auburn is No. 33 in third down offense vs. a Missouri defense that is No. 42 in third down defense. Missouri is No. 24 in third down offense vs. an Auburn defense ranked No. 28 in third down defense.

*In conference play Missouri's defense is currently holding its opponent to 38.7 percent below their rushing average. Auburn has averaged 361 yards rushing per game since the Ole Miss game, which projects AU to have 222 rushing yards vs. Missouri.

*Auburn is No. 56 in turnover margin and Missouri is No. 5. Auburn losing the turnover battle against Missouri could be fatal, especially in a high-scoring game.

*The two teams have faced five common opponents this season with Auburn winning by an average score of 42-27 and Missouri winning by an average score of 33-16. Taking these average scores vs. each team's scoring margins and it projects a Missouri victory of 32-20 and 26-24 for an average victory of 29-22.

*Taking the scoring averages and margins from each team's last three conference games and it projects a Missouri victory of 35-22 and an Auburn victory of 31-29 for an average score of 32-26 favoring Missouri.

*Since committing to the read-option the combination of Marshall and Mason have combined for 253.3 yards per game at 6.1 yards per rush during the last six conference games. This includes 20 rushing touchdowns.

What to watch...

*Though Missouri comes into the championship game with solid defensive numbers against the run, will it be able to control Auburn's explosive run offense? Auburn was able to run effectively against Alabama and Georgia despite lofty defensive rankings against the run for those teams.

*Auburn has allowed an average of 458 yards per game to conference opponents and Missouri is averaging 460 yards per game in SEC play. Will Auburn be able to minimize the damage on the scoreboard should Missouri gain 450 to 500 yards?

*Auburn has faced five teams this season ranked in the nation's Top 40 in total offense. During those games it has allowed an average of 510 yards and 33 points per game. Missouri is No. 17 in total offense and will likely gain its fair share of yardage against Auburn.

*Missouri is currently No. 4 nationally in sacks, but this edge might be a minimal threat for Auburn if Malzahn's Tigers are able to run the football 45-55 times.

Gary Pinkel has led Missouri's transition from the Big 12 Conference to the SEC.

*FBS opponents this season have averaged more than 40 pass attempts per game vs. Missouri, which has inflated its sack totals and rushing numbers. The average per rush attempt from the opponent's leading rusher is 5.15 yards per attempt.

*Malzahn's teams are 49-3 and 27-0 at Auburn when his offense attempts at least 40 rush attempts along with a pass rating of 120 or better. This includes scoring average of 42 points per game.

Keys to victory...

*The offensive game plan for the Auburn Tigers will again be centered around running the football. Auburn will likely need to score at least 31-35 points to win this game, which means a 300-yard rushing performance might be required to secure a victory.

*One of the primary reasons for Auburn's excessive amount of yards surrendered to their opponents has been the alarming number of big plays (30 yards or more) allowed this season. The AU defense must force Missouri to earn its points by limiting the big plays. Auburn is No. 97 nationally in allowing pass plays of 25 yards or more.

*Special teams could play a major factor in this game, especially when it comes to field position. Auburn needs to make Missouri play on a long field the majority of the game. Special teams have come up big for Auburn this season.

*Marshall needs to make big plays in the passing game to maximize Auburn's scoring. This game could turn into an offensive shootout similar to the Texas A&M game. If that is the case running for 300 yards won't put enough points on the scoreboard without some assistance from the passing game. The Auburn offense is currently No. 12 nationally in generating pass plays of 25 yards or more.

*Because of the style of the Missouri offense Auburn must tackle well in space this Saturday.

Final Word...

This is one of the best matchups during the Southeastern Conference Championship Game Era. It involves two teams not expected to be there, yet both squads have turned in championship-caliber play this season, earning the right to be in Atlanta.

Looking back the SECCG winners from 2000-2012 the games have favored teams with the better scoring defenses, pass offenses and run defenses. If this holds true this Saturday, Missouri should be the favorite. It should be noted the last seven teams to win the SEC Championship had an average national ranking of No. 13 in run offense.

The primary concern for Auburn is its recent emotional victories over Alabama and Georgia to close out the regular season. Does this team have enough left in the tank to pull out another close ball game against a quality opponent? I have no doubt Auburn will be focused to play Missouri, but I also find it highly improbable the players can duplicate the emotional high they possessed coming into the Iron Bowl. Auburn entered the Iron Bowl as the hunter against the higher-ranked Crimson Tide. This week Auburn enters the game as the favorite with Missouri playing the role as the hunter.

Tre Mason has put together back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons for Auburn.

Alabama was Auburn's biggest signature win of the season, inspiring a gutsy performance. Auburn now becomes Missouri's opportunity for a prime-time signature victory to prove it belongs among the nation's elite. This intangible and Auburn's questionable matchup issues paint a rather large target on the back of the Auburn Tigers.

For Auburn this has been a special season with two incredible finishes against Georgia and Alabama, which won't likely be duplicated during the same season. It creates that overwhelming feeling of the 2013 Auburn Tigers being a team of destiny. The conference championship now becomes the crescendo for a climatic finish and a loss would taint what has been a historic turnaround season. This doesn't mean it would tarnish the entire season, but it would certainly leave a bitter taste of unfinished business.

This Auburn ground game can run on anyone in the country and has developed into one of the best in school history. What happens on Saturday might not be so much about destiny as it is consistency and team chemistry. The Auburn Tigers are averaging 326 yards rushing and 40 points per game during their last six conference games and will be too much for the Missouri defense to handle. Auburn 41, Missouri 27

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