SEC Championship Game 2013: Keys to Victory for Auburn and Missouri

R. Cory Smith@@RCorySmithSenior Writer IDecember 7, 2013

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 16: Tre Mason #21 of the Auburn Tigers carries the ball for a touchdown against the Georgia Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Auburn Alabama. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Up until this past Saturday, neither of these teams were expected to have a chance to win the SEC Championship.

Alabama was still undefeated and the No. 1 team in the country, and Missouri faced the daunting task of taking down an explosive Texas A&M at home.

My, how things have changed. Just in case anyone out there has been living under a rock, here's a quick refresher on how Auburn ultimately punched its ticket to the big game (close your eyes, Bama faithful).

The fact of the matter is that circumstances have changed, and this year's SEC Championship game features two Tigers battling it out for conference supremacy and a chance to make it to at least a BCS bowl game.

OXFORD, MS - NOVEMBER 23:  Henry Josey #20 of the Missouri Tigers celebrates a touchdown against the Ole Miss Rebels during a game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Oxford, Mississippi.  Missouri won the game 24-10.  (Photo by Stacy Reve
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Running Game

Auburn's ground attack is one of the best in the nation, ranking fifth overall in rushing yards with 318.3 yards per game.

On the other side is another formidable rushing team that also ranks in the top 20 in the country with 236.9 yards per game on the ground.

Tre Mason for Auburn has proven he's worthy of the hype.

His second straight 1,000-yard rushing season is one thing, but he's now in the same conversation with Bo Jackson as having one of the greatest seasons in Auburn history.

For Mizzou, Henry Josey is putting up great numbers during his junior year as well.

Josey has 951 yards this season with three 100-yard games and three straight games with over 90 yards. The junior has 13 touchdowns on the season, with nine of those coming during SEC games.

Both running backs have the benefit of dual-threat quarterbacks as Nick Marshall and James Franklin have been just as reliable with their legs as their arms.

In order for either team to pull out a win, the ground game will have to be established, and it starts with these four players.

COLUMBIA, MO - SEPTEMBER 15:  Defensive back E.J. Gaines #31 of the Missouri Tigers breaks up a pass intended for wide receiver Rashad Ross #15 of the Arizona State Sun Devils during the game at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on September 15, 2012 in Colum
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Missouri: Stop the Pass

Mizzou has been one of the best defenses in the country at stopping the rush all season, allowing just 119.1 yards per game on the ground.

What the Tigers don't do well is stop the pass.

The pass defense for Missouri has allowed 266.3 passing yards per game, ranking 14th in the SEC. While the rush defense is 2nd only to Alabama, the pass defense has surrendered 15 touchdowns.

In order for Mizzou to pull out a victory, they will desperately need to force turnovers in the passing game, which is something it has done all season.

For all of their woes on pass defense, Mizzou has forced 18 interceptions, which ranks first overall in the SEC.

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 30:  DeAndrew White #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide fails to complete a third quarter pass against the defense of Jermaine Whitehead #9 of the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Ke
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Auburn: Defense Must Not Break

For all of its strengths on offense, Auburn has regularly been picked apart by opposing offenses.

The Tigers defense ranks 10th in the SEC in rushing yards per game (157.6) and is just ahead of Mizzou in passing yards per game at 13th (256.7).

Though its defense allows yards in bulk, Auburn does not allow its opponents to score in the same fashion. The Tigers rank 31st in the country and fifth in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing just 22.5 points per game.

Those numbers are thanks to the second-best red-zone defense in the SEC.

Out of 44 opportunities, opponents have scored just 31 times—only 21 have been touchdowns. The Tigers have also forced three interceptions and a fumble in the red zone this season.

But this weekend, Auburn will have to contain the fourth-best red-zone scoring offense in the SEC. Mizzou has cashed in on 87.5 percent of red-zone opportunities and has yet to throw an interception or fumble in the red zone.

While both teams have proven they can score at will, the opening of the run game for both sides and improving on separate facets of defense could mean the difference in one of the most surprising SEC Championship matchups in recent memory.


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