One November hurdle has been cleared by the Alabama Crimson Tide, but another one looms large.
Top-ranked Alabama outmanned No. 13 LSU 38-17 in Tuscaloosa Saturday night in another epic battle between the two SEC West heavyweights.
Quarterback AJ McCarron completed 14 of 20 passes for 179 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The senior signal-caller relied heavily on running back T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns and shut the door in the second half to push the Crimson Tide to 9-0 (6-0 SEC).
"Our players did a great job in the second half," head coach Nick Saban told Tracy Wolfson on the CBS broadcast after the game. "We didn't play great in the first half, but we played great in the second half, and I'm proud of them."
All signs point to another BCS National Championship Game appearance, but there's still work to be done. Auburn, the team across the state, topped Tennessee 55-23 in Knoxville on Saturday afternoon to push its record to 9-1 (5-1 SEC) and stay in control of its own SEC West destiny.
So is Auburn good enough to challenge Alabama?
The Tigers boast a dual-threat at quarterback with Nick Marshall, and dual-threat quarterbacks have given Saban headaches in the past. Marshall, alongside all-purpose back Tre Mason, speedster Corey Grant and bruiser Cameron Artis-Payne allow Auburn to be dynamic within the run game.
The Tigers are one-dimensional by choice because they've been able to run at an elite level. They rushed for 444 yards and five touchdowns against the Vols and attempted just seven passes for the entire game—three of which were on the first drive.
This comes one game after Mason rushed for 168 yards and four touchdowns while the Tigers attempted just nine passes in a 35-17 win over Arkansas.
No, Tennessee and Arkansas' defenses aren't exactly intimidating. While Auburn looked great on the ground against them, there's a big difference between two bottom-tier SEC rush defenses and Alabama, which boasts one of the best rush defenses in the nation.
The Crimson Tide defense looked fantastic on Saturday night, shutting down LSU to the tune of 43 rushing yards and forcing head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to be one-dimensional by necessity.
While Alabama has looked solid, Auburn is getting better on the ground and will find success against the Tide. If the Tigers can punch it into the end zone and not settle for field goals, then they'll hang with the mighty Crimson Tide.
But the problem for first-year head coach Gus Malzahn lies on the other side of the ball.
Four SEC players have gone north of the century mark on the ground against the Tigers, including Arkansas' Jonathan Williams and Tennessee's Rajion Neal in back-to-back games.
Neither one of those players compare to Yeldon, who gashed a physical LSU front seven on Saturday night.
Will Auburn challenge Alabama in the Iron Bowl?
Auburn bends but doesn't break defensively. It gives up yards in chunks but is giving up 20.4 points per game—the fourth-best mark in the SEC. However, Alabama, and Yeldon in particular, have a tendency to break teams.
The Tigers can hang, but it's going to need to force Alabama into uncharacteristic mistakes. If it can do that, an Iron Bowl for the ages could be in store. If it can't, then Auburn will just be another speed bump on Alabama's path to a three-peat.
It'll be strength on strength on the Plains later this month, with Malzahn unleashing his punishing hurry-up, no-huddle downhill rushing attack on the poster child of sound run defense.
Unstoppable force. Immovable object.
Something's gotta give on Nov. 30.