How can Alabama's and Auburn's secondary play such a key role in Saturday's tilt? Find out in this week's What to Watch:
Each team is going to try and make the other beat them with the pass. The Tigers' main focus will be to shut down an option attack that leads the SEC in rushing and in the Tide's case it is to shut down true freshman Carnell Williams. That leaves one area of the field vulnerable to say the least--the secondary.
And for Alabama, leaving the most ineffective part of your defense vulnerable doesn't seem like the best plan. The Tide is ranked 95th in the nation against the pass, giving up 256.0 yards a game, but the Tigers have not done enough through the air to should warrant major concern for Tide defensive coordinator Carl Torbush. Combined, AU's Daniel Cobb and Jason Campbell have been more inconsistent than not this season throwing the football. The duo has accounted for an equal amount of touchdowns and interceptions, 10 each, and are averaging 208.2 yards a game passing.
As for Auburn's defense, its secondary has probably gotten the least publicity in the week leading up to the Iron Bowl because it is not the team strength, but it isalso not the team weakness that many feared in the preseason with three starters to replace. However, the unit has been susceptible to giving up the big pass this season. It happened twice last week vs. Georgia when both Bulldog touchdowns came on pass plays of more than 50 yards. Just like Torbush, AU defensive coordinator John Lovett should be more concerned with stopping the run than the pass. The Tide leads the SEC averaging 215.7 yards a game.
With that in mind, each team's secondary is going to see an increased role in stopping the run and how well each unit does its job both stopping the run and preventing big plays could be the biggest factor in determing who wins the game.
Just how one dimensional are the teams? Alabama has taken 599 offensive snaps and has run 64.7 percent of the time. That's 388 attempts. Auburn has taken 631 offensive snaps and has run 60.1 percent of the time. That's 379 attempts.
Two of the SEC's best linebackers will be on display Saturday and both should play crucial roles in the team's overall success. Alabama's Saleem Rasheed leads his team with 92 tackles while Auburn's Dontarrious Thomas leads the Tigers with 100 tackles. Both athletes are in the running for All-SEC first-team honors and Saturday's contest could go a long way in determining who wins the award. Although individual accolades are not the focus in this gridiron showdown, Rasheed, a junior, and Thomas, a sophomore, will want to prove that they are worthy of the honor to be called the SEC's best and that should add even more inspiration to an already focused pair of players.
Thomas has a better supporting cast than Rasheed and having that cast of senior Tavarreus Pounds and junior Mark Brown healthy only helps as the Tigers will look to make up for a poor-showing against the option attack at Arkansas.
As in many Auburn-Alabama games in past years, this one could very well be decided in the kicking game. If that's the case, both teams should be in good shape in the placekicking department as Damon Duval and Neil Thomas are among the best in the country at putting the ball between the uprights. On the season Duval is 15-21, including game-winners against Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Florida while Thomas is 14-18 with two of those misses from 57 and 55 yards, respectively. Auburn should have a decided advantage in the punting game as Duval is second in the league with a 44.1 yard average on the season. That's in stark contrast to Lane Bearden's 39.6 yard average. An extra five yards in field position in this game could mean a great deal. If football is known as a game of inches, extra yards might mean the world to an offense looking to move into scoring territory.
With Roderick Hood and Tim Carter returning punts and kickoffs, the Tigers have better speed and better statistics.
Auburn is looking to run the table at home this year and the Tigers have the nation's sixth longest home field winning streak at 12, nine behind Nebraska. This is Bama's fourth road game for new head coach Dennis "Coach Fran" Franchione. The Tide is 1-2 away from its home fields in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.