SEC Championship 2013: The 5 Best 1-on-1 Matchups to Look For
No. 5 Missouri will take on No. 3 Auburn under the big top at the Georgia Dome on Saturday afternoon in the SEC Championship Game, with both programs still very much in the hunt for the BCS National Championship.
It isn't the matchup that was predicted before the season, but these two teams getting together for the SEC's top prize will provide fans with several riveting individual matchups that should factor in heavily to which team raises the trophy Saturday night.
What are the top five individual matchups of the SEC Championship Game? Our picks are in this slideshow.
Nick Marshall vs. Donovan Bonner
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall doesn't have eye-popping stats through the air, but his 922 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns and 6.59 yards-per-attempt average makes the Pineview, Ga., native incredibly dangerous.
Marshall's ability to make the proper decisions on zone reads has been a big reason why Auburn's offense—despite being predictable—has been remarkably effective.
That will put a ton of pressure on "Sam" linebacker Donovan Bonner. The 6'1", 245-pound senior has 48 tackles on the season, and he will be charged with making smart decisions against the elusive Auburn quarterback.
"You have to focus on looking at your keys and knowing what's going on instead of looking at the fly motion and like zone read," Bonner said. "They can pull it out and run with the quarterback. Sometimes they can raise up and pass it. It's really a triple-threat offense, man."
Sure, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is a stud and has a great matchup versus Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. But Auburn's offense will negate his impact to a point and put more stress on the second level.
The Tigers consistently get Marshall in space with one man to miss, and that man will be Bonner more times than not. If he has a good day, it'll help Missouri shut down Auburn's offense and could be the difference in the game.
L'Damian Washington vs. Jonathan Mincy
Chris Davis will go down in Auburn history as the man who wrote the final chapter of the 2013 Iron Bowl with his 109-yard missed field-goal return for touchdown, but he's also the Tigers' best cornerback.
A lot of eyes will go in his direction as the 5'11" senior looks to shut down 6'6" sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham, but that's not the matchup to watch outside. Auburn cornerback Jonathon Mincy versus Missouri wide receiver L'Damian Washington is.
Washington leads Missouri with 824 receiving yards on the season, and he is tied with Green-Beckham with a team-high 10 touchdown catches. At 6'4", 205 pounds, he also presents matchup nightmares for opposing defensive backs, and he will against the 5'10" Mincy.
"I think we have playmakers and receivers," Washington said. "James Franklin is doing a great job getting guys the ball. The love is spread equally, and we have a great group of running backs."
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn also knows just how challenging this group of receivers can be.
"His receivers are big, long and fast," Malzahn said. "They're playmakers. They definitely present challenges."
Auburn's pass defense ranks 13th in the conference at 255.7 yards per game, and it's 10th in yards per attempt at 7.3. Missouri has the receivers to exploit Auburn's biggest weakness, and that is going to put a ton of pressure on Auburn's entire secondary—particularly Mincy, its No. 2 corner.
Dee Ford vs. Mitch Morse
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford has been one of the most pleasant surprises for the 2013 Tigers this season.
The senior from Odenville, Ala., is fourth in the SEC with eight sacks and fifth in tackles for loss with 12. He routinely lines up on the left side of Auburn's defensive line, which will put a ton of pressure on Missouri right tackle Mitch Morse.
Morse—a 6'6", 305-pound junior from Austin, Texas—will be charged with keeping Ford away from quarterback James Franklin. If he can, that will allow Franklin to exploit Auburn's porous pass defense.
However, if Ford gets pressure, it could force quick decisions from Franklin. Unlike last season, Auburn actually has been successful on the back end with 12 interceptions on the year. The chances for more increase if Franklin is running for his life.
Henry Josey vs. Jake Holland
One of the best stories of the season has been the return of Missouri running back Henry Josey from a knee injury that kept him out of action for the entire 2012 season. Not only is Josey back from what head coach Gary Pinkel referred to as more of a "car-wreck injury" than a "football injury," he hasn't missed a beat.
The 5'10", 190-pound junior rushed for a team-high 951 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, including the game-winner in the 28-21 win over Texas A&M last week.
"When he broke out and ran that touchdown, they were trying to stop 3rd-and-1," head coach Gary Pinkel said. "He's fast. I've never seen anybody catch him."
Josey's elusiveness will put a ton of pressure on Auburn's linebackers, specifically "Mike" linebacker Jake Holland—who got the start last week against Alabama. Holland has 44 tackles on the season, and he splits time with Kris Frost for the Tigers.
Josey is tied with LSU's Jeremy Hill with an SEC-best six rushes of 30 or more yards on the season. It'll be up to Holland, Frost and the rest of Auburn's linebackers to prevent that from happening on Saturday.
C.J. Uzomah vs. Kentrell Brothers
When Auburn passes—which, granted, isn't all that often—one of its biggest weapons in the red zone is tight end C.J. Uzomah.
The 6'4", 258-pound junior only has nine catches on the season, but three of those have gone for touchdowns. That is tied for the second on the team.
He caught the game-winning touchdown against Mississippi State in September, and he hauled in a 13-yarder in double coverage in the third quarter last week against Alabama to tie the score at 21.
Auburn doesn't use him often but does at key times, and that will likely put pressure on Missouri "Will" linebacker Kentrell Brothers. Brothers could find himself matched up with Uzomah—perhaps with safety help—at times throughout the game.
It isn't a matchup that will steal the headlines, but it's one that could make a huge difference in the game if Auburn decides to mix things up in the red zone.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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