What To Watch: Auburn vs. Missouri

We take a look at keys for Saturday's SEC Football Championship game between the Auburn Tigers and Missouri Tigers.

The Marshall Effect

Auburn's running game has been outstanding all season long, but since Nick Marshall's play has taken off starting with the Ole Miss game the Tigers have been just about unstoppable.

Finding his groove in Gus Malzahn's system as a running quarterback, Marshall has averaged 116 rushing yards per game in his last six SEC games and scored 10 touchdowns. Throw in 808 passing yards (134 yards per game) over the stretch with seven touchdowns and just one interception and you have serious momentum for Marshall heading into Saturday's SEC game.

Nick Marshall heads toward the end zone vs. Alabama.

When you total it up Marshall is averaging 250 yards of offense over the last six conference games and has accounted for 17 touchdowns. With Auburn in a race for the SEC Championship and three of those six games on the road, it's one of the best runs by a Tiger in a long time. If the junior can continue his strong play with another big performance against Missouri and lead Auburn to its 12th win, then Marshall is very deserving of having his name mentioned with the best in college football this season.

Getting Defensive Up Front

One of the points of emphasis for the Auburn Tigers heading into the 2013 season was on the defensive front. Allowing 197.6 rushing yards per game and 23 scores on the ground, Auburn's front four struggled to get off the field and rarely made plays in the opponent's backfield in 2012. In 12 games last season the defensive line had just 17 sacks and 29 1/2 tackles for losses. That also contributed to opponents being able to convert 41 percent of their third down opportunities.

Enter Rodney Garner and key newcomers to the mix in 2013, and it has been a different story for Auburn's front. Even though the numbers still aren't where Garner, Ellis Johnson and the defense would like them to be, the Tigers have cut the rushing total to 157.6 yards per game (down 40 yards) and have allowed just 17 scores on the ground.

Gabe Wright is a starting defensive tackle for the Tigers.

With 23 sacks and 53 tackles for losses, Auburn's defensive line is creating more havoc in just about every area. Holding opponents to just a 35 percent conversion rate on third downs, Auburn is getting off the field more often and putting its potent offense in positions to score.

That's huge on Saturday against a Missouri team that has scored at least 24 points in every game and only three times been held under 30. With veteran James Franklin running the show Auburn can't let the former Big 12 team get comfortable in the Georgia Dome and that's where the defensive line comes in once again.

With a group of huge receivers to throw to, Auburn can't let Franklin sit in the pocket and deliver the football without paying for it. Already with 98 quarterback hurries this season compared to just 55 last year, Auburn's front four has done a good job of that so far and one more time is needed to help win the SEC title.

Secondary Has To Step Up

Facing a Missouri wide receiver corps featuring three players with at least 44 catches and all over 500 yards, Auburn's secondary would be in for a challenge no matter the size of the players. Throw in the fact that all are over 6-4 and physical and you have perhaps the toughest matchup of the year for Chris Davis, Jonathon Mincy, Jermaine Whitehead, Ryan Smith and the rest of the back four.

Chris Davis is a senior cornerback for Auburn.

Having their biggest problems against massive Mike Evans this season from Texas A&M, the Tigers will again face that type of threat from Missouri, but this time in the form of three different players.

The steadying influence, Marcus Lucas, has 50 receptions for 596 yards and two touchdowns and is the security blanket for Franklin.

Mr. Physical is super sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham. Catching 49 passes for 686 yards and 10 touchdowns, Green-Beckham has the speed to run by defenders, but can also post up like a power forward in basketball and use his body to shield defenders and make the catch.

A speedster who is 6-4, L'Damian Washington is third on the team with 44 catches, but leads the group with 824 yards and is tied for the team lead with 10 touchdowns.

Auburn will need its best performance in the secondary on Saturday and will also need help from Dee Ford, Carl Lawson, Gabe Wright and the defensive line to get pressure on the quarterback. If Franklin is allowed to stand in the pocket and scan the field it will be an uphill battle for Auburn's secondary in Atlanta.

Dome Sweet Dome

Something that could be a positive for Auburn is that many of the Tigers who will take the field on Saturday are already familiar with the Georgia Dome and its surroundings. Playing Clemson in the 2012 season opener, Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the end of the 2011 season and in the SEC Championship Game the season before, Auburn should have no problems adjusting to playing indoors this time around.

The crowd should also be a big positive in Auburn's favor as well. With a very pro-Auburn turnout expected in Atlanta the Tigers should feel right at home on Saturday and that has been a good place to be for Malzahn's team this year.

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