Previewing The Alabama Crimson Tide

A look at Auburn's 12th football opponent this season, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

When the Auburn Tigers (7-4, 4-3) travel to Tuscaloosa this weekend to face the Alabama Crimson Tide (9-2, 6-1), several streaks will be on the line. Two are vitally important to this game.

The first is a five-game winning streak this season by Alabama that dates back to a 27-25 loss to Georgia on October 5. The second is that Auburn has yet to allow a point in Tuscaloosa in history. In three games against the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa Auburn has outscored Alabama 74-0. If that is to continue Auburn will have to play one of its best games of the year against a team looking to keep its title of best probation team intact.

When looking at Alabama the defense is impressive. Leading the country in total defense, giving up just 244.3 yards per game, Alabama has dominated opponents lately. Allowing just 43 points during their current winning streak, the Tide will provide a major challenge to Auburn's offense Saturday.

Tide quarterback Tyler Watts is a senior.

The front four for Alabama is one of the finest in the country this season with seniors Kindal Moorehead (6-4, 294), Jarret Johnson (6-4, 287) and Kenny King (6-3, 280) along with sophomore Antwan Odom (6-5, 273) comprising the starting lineup. With 171 tackles and 19 sacks from those four alone, they are all playmakers and rush upfield without hesitation. Behind them Ahmad Childress (6-7, 345, So.), Anthony Bryant (6-3, 345, Jr.) and Todd Bates (6-4, 245, So.) should all see action as well in reserve roles.

Linebacker Brooks Daniels (6-2, 205, Jr.) leads Alabama in tackles with 94 and also has three sacks and four tackles for loss. He is a speed linebacker that has improved his physical play since arriving in Tuscaloosa. Junior Cornelius Wortham (6-1, 233) is the physical linebacker for Alabama. Second on the team in tackles with 83, he plays the run extremely well and is a capable pass defender.

Middle linebacker Freddie Roach (6-2, 238, Fr.) has come on strong and has 54 tackles and one sack this season. Junior Derrick Pope (6-0, 223) also plays a great deal and has 58 tackles in 2002.

In the secondary the safety play of Charles Jones has been a bright spot for Carl Torbush's defense. Third on the team in tackles with 78 to go along with two interceptions, the 6-0, 183 junior will be a player to watch in Saturday's game.

At strong safety Waine Bacon (5-10, 187, Sr.) has 64 tackles and two interceptions while corners Gerald Dixon (5-10, 192, Sr.) and Hirchel Bolden (6-0, 196, Sr.) have 45 and 22 tackles respectively with three interceptions between them.

Leading the way for the Alabama offense is a line that has established itself as one of the top groups in SEC. Quick tackle Wesley Britt (6-8, 312, So.), quick guard Justin Smiley (6-4, 301, So.), center Alonzo Ephraim (6-2, 303, Sr.), strong guard Marico Portis (6-3, 301, Sr.) and strong tackle Evan Mathis (6-5, 294, So.) make up the strength of an offense that leads the league in total offense at 413.8 yards per game. The group has 114 career starts between them.

Playing behind that line is a quarterback duo of Tyler Watts (6-3, 220, Sr.) and Brodie Croyle (6-2, 198, Fr.) that have shown the ability to make the big play in the passing game, but do most of their damage on the ground. That is particularly true of Watts, who is third on the team in rushing with 300 yards this season and three touchdowns. He has thrown for 1,207 yards and six touchdowns this season with four interceptions. Croyle is the more prolific passer and has 963 yards and five touchdowns in 2002 with four interceptions.

The heart of Alabama's offense is in the running game and backs Shaud Williams (5-9, 189, Jr.) and Santonio Beard (6-1, 225, Jr.) are both capable of taking over a game. Williams leads the team with 713 yards this season, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. He has scored four touchdowns. Beard is averaging 62.2 yards per game this season and has a team-best 11 touchdowns. Also a dangerous player is Ray Hudson (5-11, 194, So.), who has 294 yards this season and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Fullback Greg McLain (6-3, 230, Fr.) is used mostly as a blocker but has 81 yards rushing on 19 carries.

The receiving corps is led by junior Triandos Luke (6-0, 190), who has 34 catches for 406 yards and two touchdowns. Dangerous Sam Collins (6-1, 184, Sr.) is fast and is averaging 16.2 yards per catch on 30 receptions this season. He has two touchdowns. Leading the team in receiving touchdowns is Dre Fulgham (6-1, 217, Jr.) who has three TDs on 27 catches for 435 yards. Tight end Clint Johnston (6-4, 248, Fr.) isn't much of a threat as a receiver with just eight catches for 83 yards. Big play threat Zach Fletcher (6-3, 200, Jr.) is averaging 33.8 yards per catch on five receptions and has two touchdowns.

This contest could come down to the kicking game where Alabama is solid with Kyle Robinson handling the placekicking duties since the Ole Miss game. He is 19-20 on extra points this season and 6-8 on field goals. Punter Lane Bearden, bothered by a torn ligament in his knee, is averaging 41.6 yards per punt but is vulnerable to a heavy rush as last week's game versus Mississippi State showed.

Expect the Auburn Tigers to continue to do as they've done all year. They will try to establish the running game early to set up the play-action pass for quarterback Jason Campbell. Defensively, the key for the Tigers is to stop the run and force Watts and company to move the ball through the air. In Alabama's two losses this season to Oklahoma and Georgia they have averaged just 102.5 yards per game on the ground. The way has been shown. The question is can Auburn do anything about it? Only Saturday will tell. Kickoff is set for 2:40 p.m. and can be seen on CBS.


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