This season Auburn leads the SEC in total offense and scoring offense and has six games of over 30 points with only two under 20. In contrast Alabama leads the league in every defensive category with a 21-point outburst against Southern Miss the highest point total they've given up this season. Auburn senior offensive tackle says it's going to be a battle worth watching.
"I feel like we really match-up well," Marcus McNeill says. "A great offense and a great defense. Not taking anything away from their offense because we know they have wonderful talent on offense too and we have a wonderful defense, but at the same time that's what every body is going to be looking forward to seeing."
Early in the season it didn't appear that would be the case as the Tigers struggled in the running game against Georgia Tech and Mississippi State, but two things changed that for the better. The first was the insertion of Kenny Irons into the lineup earlier and more often. The second was stability on the offensive line.
Perhaps the most important thing that happened to Auburn was a loss. As hard as that is to believe, McNeill says that the lessons learned on a hard night in Baton Rouge are what put this offense over the hump.
"When we matched up against LSU real well, even though we came out with a loss, we felt like we really matched because we really felt like we could have beaten them," McNeill says. "They are one of the top teams in the nation and whenever you go out and put up one of your top games against one of the best teams in the nation and they put up one of their best games and you only lose by a little margin, it gives you confidence that you can play with anybody. That's how we felt. It was a big game for us. Even though it was a loss it was the turning point in the season for us I think."
McNeill is an emotional leader for the Auburn offense.
Since rushing for 230 yards against the Bengal Tigers, Auburn and Irons have been on a roll. The Tigers have rushed for 688 yards in their last three games with Irons going over the century mark in all three. McNeill says that he continues to be impressed by what Irons and the other newcomers are doing on offense for Auburn this season.
"We really take a lot of pride in everything we do," McNeill says. "We knew that we were going to have a lot of new guys step in new roles, a lot of shoes had to be filled. Jason Campbell, Carnell, everybody left real big shoes to fill, but I really think Kenny Irons is doing a great job at the running back position. I really feel like Brandon Cox is doing a wonderful job at the quarterback position trying to fill the role of Jason Campbell."
Auburn enters Saturday's showdown on an emotional high after winning a hard-fought 31-30 victory over Georgia last weekend in Athens. McNeill says that getting a win in a game like that makes all the hurt and tiredness leave a body much quicker than after a loss.
"Whenever you come out on the better end of the stick in a close game like that you're going to pick up a lot of confidence," McNeill says. "We went down to LSU and got real close, but ended up on the other end. It was a moral victory a lot of people say, but those don't go down in the record book. It was still hard to swallow.
"Whenever we get games like this where it's a hard fought game, all the nicks and bruises just seem to hurt a little less because the game went successfully. You know everything you went through had a purpose behind it."
McNeill comes into the Alabama game banged-up with a sore hand that he hurt early in the first quarter against Georgia. Playing his home state school and facing one of the best defensive ends in the league in Quentin Moses, McNeill says he got a little too emotional early in a battle and bruised his hand.
"I know not to hit a guy closed-fist with a helmet on," McNeill says. "I kind of pushed his face and I guess one of my fingers bent. I don't think anything is broken. It should be good."
That's good news for the Tigers as they prepare for the season's biggest game and the biggest test offensively for the team. McNeill, who has started 37 games in his career for the Tigers, says that facing a 9-1 Alabama team makes this game even more special for him.
"This is probably the biggest Iron Bowl I've played in," McNeill says. "My first couple of years either one team or the other was struggling so the game might not have been as hyped up nationally as you would expect. This year there is going to be a pretty big game, primetime TV once again. We're just going to have to go our there and prove ourselves once again."
A victory would not only make McNeill's senior class the winningest in school history, it would also give the group four consecutive victories over the Crimson Tide. He says that is hard to believe after where this group started their careers with a road loss at USC.
"That would be a pretty big feat," McNeill says. "I don't know of too many people that can say they beat Alabama all four years. It's definitely one I want to accomplish, but at the same time we can't take them lightly. Even though we've beat them three years in a row every year has been a dogfight….you can never really rest on your laurels in a game like this.
"We knew coming into the Alabama game that they would be one of the best defenses we'll see all year," he adds. "They've got a great defensive front and great athletes all over the field. It's going to be a big challenge for us."