The Iron Bowl never lacks for intensity, and that intensity will be off the charts for this one. No. 1 Alabama (11-0) will travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium to take on No. 4 Auburn this Saturday in the latest installment of this fierce rivalry.
There are far more than bragging rights on the line for this one. The Crimson Tide can be secure in the knowledge that if they win out, a place in the BCS title game is all but guaranteed. Meanwhile, if Auburn can win out, the Tigers stand a solid shot of also making the BCS title game.
Here are the keys that will decide the winner of this epic matchup.
Hit For a Couple Big Pass Plays
At 320.3 yards per game, Auburn is second in the nation in rushing. This run-heavy team isn't going to change that approach for the Iron Bowl, but they will have to take to the air on a few occasions.
Auburn is passing for just 179.6 yards per game this season, but that passing game will still play a vital role in this one.
Alabama's defensive front is too strong for the Tigers to find consistent success on the ground without the threat of a pass.
If the Tigers and quarterback Nick Marshall can hit for a couple of big plays on play actions in non-obvious passing downs, it will keep the Alabama defense honest, which will open things up for the running game.
Turnovers are key in every game, but they will be especially vital for the Tigers in this one. As I just detailed, the Tigers like to run the ball early and often.
A big key to the success of running games is wearing down the defense.
If Auburn can get a turnover or two, it will allow them to get in even more snaps and pound the run. This will help them wear out Alabama's defensive front.
On the season, Auburn has done a decent job of creating turnovers with five fumbles gained and 12 interceptions. The big problem is that Alabama rarely turns the ball over. For the season, the Crimson Tide have lost just seven fumbles and five interceptions.
Slow Down the Run
After discussing Auburn's prowess in, and propensity for, the run, it should be no surprise that slowing down that rushing attack is going to be key for Alabama.
Slowing down opposing run games is rarely a problem for the Crimson Tide. On the season, Alabama has allowed just four teams to rush for more than 100 yards, and no team has rushed for more than 165 against Alabama this season. Also, two of the 100-yard games Alabama allowed came in the first two games of the season.
On the year, Alabama has allowed opponents to rush for just 1,004 yards gained at an average of 3.01 per carry.
Auburn has a diverse rushing attack that is led by the 1,153 yards of running back Tre Mason and the 823 rushing yards of Marshall. This will be a quality test for Alabama's defense.
Auburn has displayed a solid pass rush this season. The Tigers have 24 sacks on the year. That rush starts with a pair of talented defensive ends.
Senior Dee Ford has eight sacks on the season and freshman Carl Lawson has three.
If those two can put consistent pressure on quarterback A.J. McCarron without Auburn having to send extra rushers on blitzes, Auburn will be in great shape.
Conversely, if McCarron has time in the pocket, like he has for most of his time at Alabama, the Crimson Tide will have a great foundation for success.
With plenty of talent around him, McCarron is turning in another excellent season. He's thrown for 2,399 yards, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions in a season that very well may lead him to the Heisman Trophy.
If the Crimson Tide give him time to throw, I expect him to solidify his standing in the race for that prestigious trophy.