More Than Bragging Rights On The Line

The annual Iron Bowl will once again be the focus of the college football world on Saturday night when Auburn travels to Alabama.

When No. 15 Auburn (8-3, 4-3) takes on No. 1/2 ranked Alabama (10-1, 6-1) Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium it will be the 79th renewal of the Iron Bowl, perhaps the nation’s top college football rivalry.

With the memory of last season’s dramatic “Kick Six” ending on Chris Davis’ 109-yard missed field goal return, the energy should be through the roof with the Tigers and Crimson Tide squaring off again.

“It’s the best rivalry in college football,” Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn contends. “It’s real special to be a part of it. Both teams are highly-motivated along with their coaching staffs. It’s usually a good one. We’re looking forward to it.”

Coming off an SEC Championship and within seconds of taking home its second BCS national title in four years, Auburn is out of the race for Atlanta this season, but there is still plenty to play for Malzahn says.

With the opportunity to win 10 games this season and become the first Auburn team to reach that total in back-to-back seasons since 1988-89, the Tigers can also likely knock their biggest rival out of the College Football Playoffs in the process.

For Auburn it will be important to find ways to slow Alabama’s balanced attack led by senior quarterback Blake Sims and big-time wide receiver Amari Cooper. Normally thought of as a power running team, Alabama is a dangerous passing team in 2014 and that hasn’t been a good matchup for the Tigers this season after allowing points in bunches to passing teams like Ole Miss, South Carolina and Texas A&M.

With problems communicating in the secondary much of the season, Auburn’s back seven will need to play its best game of the season if the Tigers want to pull off the upset.

Facing a defense that allows just 84 yards per game on the ground, Auburn’s combination of the SEC’s leading rusher Cameron Artis-Payne and versatile quarterback Nick Marshall will have to move the football on the ground. The good news for the Tigers is the return of leading receiver Duke Williams after he missed the last three games with a knee injury. Auburn’s go-to receiver and the player that Marshall looks to in crunch time, Williams makes it tough to commit too many players to stopping Auburn’s running game.

This game could be decided on special teams and both squads have been hit or miss this season with the strength for the Tigers kicker Daniel Carlson and punt return man Quan Bray.

Connecting on 12-16 field goals and producing touchbacks on better than 60 percent of his kickoffs, the redshirt freshman Carlson has done a good job in his first season as a starter. Bray is one of the top punt returners in the country, averaging 18.8 yards per attempt.

For Alabama the special teams star has been punter J.K. Scott. The freshman is averaging 46.8 yards per kick this season with only four touchbacks and 23 downed inside the 20-yard line.

Auburn won last year’s game and has a 7-2 record in Iron Bowl matchups played at Tuscaloosa, but after losing two of their last three games the Tigers must pick up their level of play to upset Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where the Tide has played considerably better than in road games this season.

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