Photo by Jason Caldwell

Looking At Several Key Areas For The Auburn Tigers In Saturday's Iron Bowl Against Alabama

Auburn has a big challenge Saturday against Alabama and we take a look at three key areas of concern for the Tigers.

Auburn’s O-Line Vs. Alabama D-Line

Auburn wants to run the football and so far this season that has been a problem for Alabama’s opponents with A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, Reggie Ragland and others making it a nightmare to move the ball on the ground against the Crimson Tide. While there’s no question the Tigers need to make some big plays in the passing game, for Gus Malzahn’s offense to work effectively the running game has to click.

That means Avery Young and Braden Smith on the right side have to continue to be physical while getting a healthy Shon Coleman and Austin Golson back would be huge for the Tigers. Perhaps the biggest key may be left guard Alex Kozan. Still trying to find his groove with up-and-down performances this season, Saturday would be a great time for Kozan’s return to form.

With the challenge a huge one on Saturday, Malzahn said this Alabama front seven is as good as anyone the Auburn Tigers have seen in quite a while and presents plenty of challenges.

“They're the best in the country, I will say that,” Malzahn said. “The most talented group. A lot of those guys have played a lot of football and they're experienced. They've got a lot of depth. They put their two's in and they're like most people's one's or maybe even better.

“You can say that just about every year. That's what they do. They've got very talented defensive fronts and this year's no different. It may be a little bit stronger. They're impressive. You watch them on film, they're impressive. They're well coaches and they're extremely, extremely talented.”

 Auburn Defense Vs. Derrick Henry

There is no question that as Derrick Henry goes so goes the Alabama offense. While Jake Coker, Calvin Ridley and company are definitely capable of making plays, Henry is the engine that drives the Crimson Tide offense this season.

While Auburn’s defense has performed much better against the run in recent weeks, including holding Georgia to just 146 yards on the ground two weeks ago, Henry presents a similar challenge to the one they failed miserably early in the year at LSU when Leonard Fournette ran over, around and through the Auburn defense.

This group of Tigers that takes the field on Saturday is a different one with Carl Lawson back and changes throughout the defense making a big difference for first-year coordinator Will Muschamp. Getting his guys ready to take on Henry and a very good Alabama offensive line, Muschamp said it’s all about being physical and getting the guys on the ground this week.

“They do a great job in the run game of scheming you up and making you tackle on the perimeter ,making guys that aren't usually tackling a back of that size,” Muschamp said. “You've got to be able to tackle a guy in the open field. We've got our work cut out for us.”

 Auburn’s Passing Game Vs. Alabama Secondary

No matter who is throwing the passes for the Tigers on Saturday the Auburn offense needs to hit several big plays down the field for Toomer’s Corner to have a big celebration after the game. Last season Nick Marshall connected with Sammie Coates and Duke Williams for big play after big play against the Crimson Tide, keeping Auburn in a shootout until very late in the game in Tuscaloosa.

This time around it’s a new cast of characters and for the most part this season the group has been very up and down with Jeremy Johnson at the center of the inconsistency. Even if Sean White is healthy and ready to go Johnson will likely get the call for the Tigers out of the gate and Malzahn said they have confidence the Montgomery native can get the job done after his last three weeks of play.

“I think the big thing is taking care of the football, protecting the football,” Malzahn said. “That’s where it starts and he’s done a good job of that lately. Just managing the offense with the tempo and everything that goes with it, the communication. I really like the things he’s done.

“I think the positive if you look at it now is we have two guys that we feel good about,” he added. “Both have experience, both have won games on the road in our league. So really I’m looking at it more as a positive at this point in the season.”

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