StatTiger Column: Iron Bowl Preview

Stuart Carter (StatTiger) crunches the numbers to predict what will happen in the 2014 Iron Bowl as the Auburn Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa.

Nick Marshall (above) will be starting for the second time in the Iron Bowl game.


No. 15 Auburn (8-3) at No. 1/2 Alabama (10-1)

Series Record: Alabama (42-35-1)

Last Meeting: (2013) Auburn 34-28

About the teams:

Nick Saban of Alabama is 175-58-1 as a head coach, including an 84-16 record at Alabama. Gus Malzahn is 29-8 all time and 20-5 at Auburn.

Auburn’s Nick Marshall has a quarterback rating of 144.3 in conference play with eight touchdown passes and four interceptions. Duke Williams has 24 receptions for 406 yards during six conference games. Sammie Coates has 19 receptions for 404 yards in seven conference games.

Cameron Artis-Payne leads Auburn and the Southeastern Conference in rushing, including 140.7 yards per game in conference play. Nick Marshall is No. 2 on the team with 69.3 yards per game in conference play at 5.5 yards per rush.

Linebacker Cassanova McKinzy and safety Jonathan Ford both average 7.1 tackles per game in conference

Auburn junior cornerback Jonathan Jones is No. 7 nationally with 14 passes defended and leads the Tigers with five interceptions.

Jonathan Jones is a junior cornerback for the Tigers.

The Alabama ground game currently averages 166.9 yards per game in conference led by T.J. Yeldon, who is averaging 76.1 yards per game in conference play at 4.8 yards per rush. Derrick Henry has averaged 54.4 yards per game in conference play at 4.3 yards per rush.

Tide quarterback Blake Sims has been very solid in conference play with a QB rating of 149.1, including 14 touchdown passes to just two interceptions.

Amari Cooper is the SEC’s top receiver with 54 receptions and 849 yards in conference play. This includes nine touchdown receptions in seven games.

Amari Cooper is having a strong junior season for the Tide.

Linebacker Reggie Ragland leads the Crimson Tide in tackles, including 9.4 per game in conference play. Senior linebacker Xzavier Dickson leads the team in tackles for loss with 9 1/2 and in sacks with seven.

In conference play Alabama has averaged 431yards per game while allowing 300 yards on defense. Auburn has averaged 504 yards per game in conference play while allowing 423.

How they match up...

*Auburn’s run offense is ranked No. 9 nationally vs. Alabama’s run defense, which is ranked No. 2. Alabama is No. 34 in rushing vs. Auburn, which is No. 38 in run defense. Slight edge to Alabama.

*Alabama’s offense is ranked No. 16 in pass efficiency vs. Auburn, which is ranked No. 52 in pass efficiency defense. Auburn is No. 17 in pass efficiency vs. Alabama, which is No. 19 in pass efficiency defense. Edge to Alabama.

*Alabama is No. 14 in yards per play on first down vs. Auburn, which is ranked No. 73 in yards allowed on first down. Auburn is No. 31 in yards per play on first down vs. Alabama, which is No. 1 in yards allowed per play on first down. Major edge to Alabama.

*Auburn is No. 2 nationally in third down conversions vs. Alabama, which is ranked No. 22 in third down defense. Alabama is No. 4 in third down conversions vs. Auburn, which is No. 28 in third down defense. No edge.

*Auburn is No. 17 in red zone touchdown percentage vs. Alabama, which is ranked No. 6 on red zone defense. Alabama is No. 61 in red zone touchdown offense vs. Auburn, which is No. 24 on defense. Slight edge to Auburn.

*Auburn is No. 7 in generating run plays of 10-plus yards and pass plays of 15-plus yards vs. Alabama, which is No. 3 defending them. Alabama is No. 27 in generating impact plays on offense vs. Auburn, which is No. 87 in preventing them. Edge to Alabama.

*Auburn is No. 15 in generating run plays of 20-plus yards and pass plays of 25-plus yards vs. Alabama, which is No. 22 on defense. Alabama is No. 29 in generating big plays on offense vs. Auburn, which is ranked No. 57 on defense. Edge to Alabama.

*Auburn is No. 42 in turnover margin vs. Alabama, which is ranked No. 70 nationally. Edge to Auburn.

*Auburn is No. 38 in tackles for loss vs. Alabama, which is No. 15 in tackles for loss allowed. Alabama is No. 42 in tackles for loss vs. Auburn, which is ranked No. 42 in tackles for loss allowed. Edge to Alabama.

*Alabama is No. 2 in net punting vs. Auburn, which is ranked No. 70. Major edge to Alabama.

*Auburn is No. 4 in punt return offense vs. Alabama, which is No. 56 defending punt returns. Alabama is No. 37 in punt return offense vs. Auburn, which is No. 66 in punt return defense. Edge to Auburn.

*Alabama is No. 48 in kick return offense vs. Auburn, which is 104th in kick return defense. Auburn is No. 77 in kick return offense vs. Alabama, which is No. 88 in kick return defense. Edge to Alabama.

*Alabama is 18th in time of possession vs. Auburn, which is No. 69. Edge to Alabama.

Keys to Victory...

*During the last seven Iron Bowl games Auburn averaged 5.71 yards per play on first down during its three victories and only 3.80 per play during its four losses. Playing well on first down will be essential.

*During Auburn's last three victories over Alabama the offense averaged 5.7 impact plays per contest and only 2.7 during its last four Iron Bowl losses. Auburn's offense must generate explosive plays to put enough points on the scoreboard to win.

*Consistency on offense will be a key this Saturday. During Auburn's last three wins over Alabama the offense went three-and-out only 20 percent of the time. During their last four losses against Alabama the Tigers went three-and-out 45 percent of the time.

*Since 1981 the team with the most rushing yardage at the end of the game is 27-6 in the Iron Bowl so out-rushing the Tide is something the Tigers need to do. Auburn has averaged 284 yards rushing in conference play while allowing 178 yards per SEC game on defense. Alabama has averaged 167 yards in conference play while allowing 115 yards on defense.

Cameron Artis-Payne has rushed for 1,405 yards as a senior.

*The Tigers need to be consistently good on first down when they have the football. During the last 20 Iron Bowls the team that won the first down battle in yards per play is 15-5 in the series.

*Since 1981 Auburn is 8-2 when the Tigers are able to run the ball at least 64 percent of the time on first down and 4-8 when they don't.

What to watch...

•The majority of attention when Alabama is on offense will be on Cooper. Look for Alabama to target another receiver, Ardarius Stewart, to take advantage of his speed, especially if Cooper is limited.

•How effective will Auburn be throwing on first down against Alabama? Since 2007 Auburn has completed 63 percent of its passes on first down for an efficiency rating of 136.0. Against Alabama it is 55 percent with a rating of just 110.9.

•Can Auburn put it all together on the road? The Tigers have not played as well this season away from Jordan-Hare Stadium. They have gained less yardage and points on the road while allowing more yardage and points on defense. The Tigers are penalized more often on the road and the Tigers turn the ball over more frequently on the road.

•Alabama has done a solid job of defending Malzahn's offense and will need to do it again on Saturday if it wants to avoid its first home loss of the season. Malzahn’s offense has averaged 292 yards and 24 points against the Alabama defense. This includes averages of only five impact plays per game and 161 yards rushing.

•How frequently can the Auburn defense put Alabama into third and long? Auburn’s opponents have converted only 19 of 72 situations of third down and at least eight yards needed for a first down.

Final Word...

Looking at the scoring averages and margins from each team’s last five conference games, the score on Saturday projects to Alabama victories of 29-17 or 50-12. Average the two scores and the Crimson Tide wins handily, 39-14.

Gus Malzahn will be coaching in his fifth Iron Bowl game and second as Auburn's head coach.

Looking at the five common opponents indicates a closer game. The projection here is an Auburn victory of 26-22 and an Alabama victory of 38-15. Average the two scores and Alabama wins 30-20. Auburn appears to have the better overall offense, but this advantage is less than Alabama's advantage on defense. The recent trend this season also favors Alabama. During its last three conference games Alabama averaged 373 yards and 26 points per game while allowing 357 yards and 18 points. Auburn averaged 459 yards and 27 points per game while allowing 450 yards and 35 points per game.

The focus on Auburn this Saturday will be its offense, which has not been as productive the past two games as it was earlier in the season. If Auburn is to pull the upset, it will take a team effort to get the job done. The defense and special teams need to make this a low-scoring affair to give the Tigers a better chance of victory considering the offense hasn’t been as sharp in recent games.

Playing at home Alabama averages 44 points on offense while allowing only 11 points per game. Playing on the road Auburn averages just 21 points while allowing 29. Both teams have played much better in the confines of their home stadium while struggling on the road.

As a college football season progresses most teams are either improving or regressing. This Auburn team has retreated since its loss to Mississippi State. The Iron Bowl is normally won up front, an area where Auburn isn’t dominating, and this is a series of featuring few upsets. Since 1951 the team that finishes the season with the better record is 53-7 in the series and the numbers project that will not change this year. Alabama 38, Auburn 17.

Around the Southeastern Conference:

Missouri over Arkansas
South Carolina over Clemson
Georgia over Georgia Tech
Louisville over Kentucky
Florida State over Florida
Mississippi State over Ole Miss
Tennessee over Vanderbilt

Season Record: 78-23


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