The Iron Bowl is set to kick off on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS, matching the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide against the unranked Auburn Tigers.
Auburn has fallen hard this year, bringing a 3-8 record into the annual rivalry matchup, and is expected to lose big in this game. To avoid the embarrassment that is expected to come, the Tigers have to bring their best performance to the field and rely on three key areas of production.
Jonathan Wallace and Tre Mason will be offensive keys for Auburn in this game. Without big games from both, the Tigers will get crushed.
The Auburn pass rush is the third key to avoiding the blowout loss. If the Tigers are unable to pressure A.J. McCarron, the Tide will score early and often.
Here is a look at how the Tigers can find success on the field Saturday and avoid the blowout loss to the Tide.
Jonathan Wallace Uses His Legs
Alabama has shown deficiencies on defense when facing offenses with athletic quarterbacks. This season, Johnny Manziel was able to shred the Tide through the air and on the ground by creating plays with his feet.
The Crimson Tide play sound, fundamental football, but when they are faced with improvisational situations, they struggle.
In no way am I saying that Jonathan Wallace is a Manziel-level talent at this point, but the young quarterback has shown a cool demeanor in the pocket, with the ability to create plays when they break down. Wallace maneuvers through the pocket and helps create his own passing lanes on a regular basis.
If Wallace can keep his poise in this game, he will give the Tigers a shot to move the football and eat up game clock, keeping the contest close.
The Tigers Get Mason to 1,000
One unexpected bright spot for the Auburn offense this season has been Tre Mason.
Mason has rushed 150 times for 920 yards and eight touchdowns this fall. He is averaging 6.1 yards per carry and is just shy of a 1,000-yard season.
80 yards is a modest performance for most talented running backs, but against Alabama, dashing for 80 is a tough feat to accomplish.
Mason has only carried the ball 20 or more times in two games this year, so he should be relatively fresh for the Iron Bowl. If Auburn can get him more than 20 touches, he will have a great shot at hitting 1,000.
Pressure A.J. McCarron
A.J. McCarron was having a nearly flawless season until he faced LSU and Texas A&M. Both teams had success breaking down the pocket on McCarron, helping stop the rhythm that the Alabama offense relies on.
Can Auburn keep the game within the 32.5 point line?
As McCarron has grown into the Alabama offense, his role has shifted from a game manager to game-changer. Against LSU, the Tide relied on his final drive to win the football game. Against Texas A&M, he couldn’t deliver.
Auburn was supposed to have one of the best pass-rushing defenses when the season began, but the Tigers have since flopped at the position. If the Tigers can live up to potential against Alabama and get to McCarron, Auburn will have a shot at slowing the Alabama offensive machine.
Without these three keys receiving focus and showing success on Saturday, Auburn will get punted out of Tuscaloosa in short order.