Missouri and Auburn both started the season at the Southeastern Conference cellar, coming off seasons in which each prideful program failed to become bowl eligible.
Now, they're playing for the SEC championship with both teams eyeing the potential of winning a national title.
Things are cloudy at the top of the BCS after Alabama's loss, which means that the eventual SEC champion may be able to gain enough steam to get into the national title picture ahead of Ohio State. But both squads have plenty on their respective plates heading into Atlanta.
Here's how the matchup between these two sets of Tigers will look when each has the ball.
When Auburn Has the Ball
By now, it's not a secret. Auburn is going to run the ball. They're going to do it early, they're going to do it late and they're going to do it quite well.
However, all season long, Missouri's defense has proven to be one of the elite forces in stopping the run across the entire SEC. But then again, Alabama was the elite force of elite forces in everything defensive, and Auburn torched the Tide on the ground.
Missouri's run defense ranked second in the SEC entering Week 14, giving up 113 rushing yards per game. Behind a boisterous front four that gets pressure in the backfield and a ball-hawking secondary, points are hard to come by against Mizzou.
Still, the SEC East champs haven't faced an offense and a rushing attack as potent and unique as Auburn's. Nick Marshall and Tre Mason were the real deal before the Iron Bowl, and after combining for 263 of the team's 296 rushing yards, it's almost impossible to count out their effectiveness.
For Missouri to slow down Auburn's roll, it will have to blow up the backfield and make Marshall's option decision a tough one in order to force him into some mistakes. And even then, he's shown the ability to hit the long ball when defenses creep up to stall the run.
Gary Pinkel and the Missouri coaching staff will have to execute a master game plan and execute it perfectly to keep Auburn's offense at bay.
When Missouri Has the Ball
It's tough to judge Missouri's offense by the numbers since it has had two very different quarterbacks at the helm, so let's go with what it boasts right now.
James Franklin is not just healthy, but has his game back—that much is certain after Missouri's 28-21 win over Texas A&M Saturday. Franklin was an efficient 18-for-28 with 233 yards and two touchdowns along with no picks. That was a sight to behold for Mizzou fans who worried about his pedestrian outing against Ole Miss the week before.
He clicked with his 2-star receivers Dorial Green-Beckham and L'Damian Washington, who have both been hot all season long and both surpassed the double-digit touchdown total on Saturday.
DGB and Washington are two of the best end-zone jump-ball threats in the nation, but Auburn's secondary is nothing to scoff at. The Tigers may give up a lot of yards through the air, but have more interceptions (12) than touchdowns given up (11) and looked at their best in the Iron Bowl.
Plus, other than one huge mistake on a 99-yard Amari Cooper touchdown, Auburn kept AJ McCarron and Alabama's passing game at bay despite undying efforts to stretch the field.
But Missouri's offense goes much deeper than the passing game, as Franklin is one of the best scrambling quarterbacks in the SEC. Running back Henry Josey entered Week 14 ranked eighth in the conference in rushing and added the game-winning, 57-yard touchdown to beat the Aggies.
If Franklin is clicking with his receivers, it sets up much more room for the rushing attack, and that could keep Auburn's defense off balance all game long.
All stats, unless otherwise noted, as of Nov. 29, 2013 and courtesy of CFBstats.com
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