Will the Tigers be able to pull off the upset?
It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish…unless you’re the No. 4 Auburn Tigers facing the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS).
In this case, how Auburn begins the game will go a long way in determining how it finishes.
From the minute the Alabama team bus pulls up to Jordan-Hare stadium, head coach Nick Saban and his players will be greeted by a hostile environment. Noise will be at a peak, the jeers will be at their wittiest and the confidence of an upset will be at its highest.
It’s vital that the Tigers maintain that intensity throughout the stadium for as long as they can.
With that said, here is the team’s blueprint for a dream start.
1. Score on Opening Drive
In the last 31 games, spanning back to 2010, only Texas A&M (twice) has managed to score on the opening drive against the Tide. The Aggies won one of those games on Nov. 20 of last year, 29-24, and lost the other earlier this season, 49-42.
But in both cases, an early lead—20-0 and 14-0 respectively—allowed Texas A&M to hang around until the final whistle.
That’s a strategy that Auburn will have to adopt on Saturday.
Thus far, the Tigers have scored on their opening drives seven times this year. The team is 7-0 in those games.
Not only will putting up points quickly get the fans even louder, but it also puts more pressure on Alabama to respond.
2. Force Turnovers and Capitalize with Points
During the Aggies’ victory over the Tide last season, the team followed up its opening-drive touchdown by picking off quarterback AJ McCarron in Alabama territory. From there, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel made quick work, finding the end zone in four plays for a 14-0 lead.
Look for Auburn to follow suit.
Entering Week 14, McCarron has shown vulnerabilities on the road. In four games away from home, the senior has thrown three interceptions and only completed 58.0 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 145.0.
In comparison, he’s thrown just two picks and completed 76.6 percent of his throws for a rating of 180.3 in seven contests inside the friendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
That’s music to the ears of a Tigers defense that has recorded 12 interceptions on the season and forced a turnover in eight consecutive games and in all but one this season.
Auburn must make McCarron uncomfortable early and often.
3. Establish the Ground Game
Coming into this week, only Army and Navy have had more success running the ball than the Tigers.
Through 11 games, Auburn has averaged 320.3 yards per game on the ground. Running back Tre Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall have been a large part of that.
What will be the result of this game?
Mason currently leads the team with 1,153 yards and 17 touchdowns on 208 rushes. Marshall comes in at second, rushing for 823 yards and nine scores on 123 carries.
The success for both of these players becomes even more important when you consider that almost nobody has had more success at stopping the run than the Tide.
Thus far, the team ranks No. 4 against the run (91.3 YPG). Alabama has only given up five rushing touchdowns while conceding a meager 3.01 yards per carry.
In fact, the Tide haven’t allowed an opposing running back to top 80 yards since Week 1.
If the Tigers have any hope of winning, both Mason and Marshall will need to exploit a run defense that has been a brick wall for the majority of the year.
Summing It All Up
Over the years, teams that have managed to put Alabama into an early hole have been the ones that have come away victorious.
However, that’s a lot easier said than done. That’s evident by the fact that the Tide have only dropped five games since 2008.
Fortunately for Auburn, the team has all the right tools to carve out an upset that would send shockwaves throughout the entire college football landscape.
And if the Tigers can put it altogether flawlessly on Saturday, they can pounce ahead early and never look back.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.