The 2013 Iron Bowl will be one of the biggest in the history of the series when No. 4 Auburn hosts No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, and it will be defense, not offense, that will determine who wins the SEC West.
As Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News' tweeted, an Iron Bowl of this magnitude hasn't happened very often:
Everything is on the line this weekend. Alabama is looking to win its third national title in four years. If Auburn can pull off the upset, it will dethrone the Crimson Tide and have an outside shot at making it to Pasadena to compete for its second national title since the 2010-11 season.
The numbers for both offenses are staggering. Alabama ranks 14th in the nation by scoring 39.7 points per game, and Auburn is right behind its rival at 17th with 39 points per game.
As those numbers suggest, it's been tough for opponents to stop either offense. The Crimson Tide and the Tigers have been held to fewer than 30 points only twice each. Neither squad has been held to fewer than 20 points.
The Tigers, on the other hand, score by running the football. They have the second-best rushing attack in the nation, as they average 320.3 rushing yards per game. The balance that they have in the backfield is incredible. They have four different players with at least 500 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Tre Mason leads the way with 1,153 yards, on 5.5 yards per carry, and 17 touchdowns.
Alabama is led by Heisman candidate AJ McCarron. The senior quarterback has thrown for 23 touchdowns to only five interceptions, but he has been incredible in the second half of the season. In the seven games since the beginning of October, he has 17 touchdowns to only two interceptions.
All of those numbers are pretty impressive. However, the defenses shouldn't be overlooked in this matchup.
The Crimson Tide defense is tough to move the football against. Alabama ranks seventh against the pass and fourth against the run. Opponents are averaging only 91.3 yards per game on the ground against the Crimson Tide and have scored only five rushing touchdowns, with the latter ranking second.
It will be strength against strength in this showdown. Auburn can run the football, and Alabama is as good as anyone in the nation at stopping the run.
Auburn has a solid defense that ranks 30th in scoring defense at 22 points per game, but Alabama has been the stingiest in the nation at only 9.3 points per game.
Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M put up 42 points on the Crimson Tide in the second game of the season. Alabama has allowed 60 points in the other 10 games combined. The defense has pitched three shutouts this season, including two in SEC play.
On paper, it looks like Alabama's defense has the edge. It has held opponents to 10 points or fewer nine times this season. Auburn has accomplished that feat only three times in 2013. The Tigers like to win shootouts, which is fine against lesser opponents. When it comes time to play the Crimson Tide, the Tigers need to be prepared to grind throughout the game.
Auburn does have home-field advantage, which could help its defense rattle the Alabama offense. McCarron has been in so many big games, it's going to take a lot to get to him on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide has averaged 39.3 points in the Iron Bowl under McCarron. In those three games, Auburn has scored a total of 42 points. This is a much different team than those previous squads, especially on offense, but the Tigers will have to prove that they can make some stops.
Although these teams are used to putting up a ton of points every game, this game will be decided by defense. There are going to be points put up in this game, so whichever team can set the tone early and contain the other offense will come out on top.
The winner of the Iron Bowl will win the SEC West and possibly compete for a national title.
*All stats are via NCAA.com
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