Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin
The 2013 SEC Football Championship Game between Auburn and Missouri earlier this month turned into a track meet, with both sets of Tigers going up and down the field in Auburn's 59-42 win.
A big reason Missouri was able to match Auburn's punishing rushing attack blow-for-blow for three quarters was the play of wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
Green-Beckham had six catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns against an Auburn defense that ranks last in the SEC in pass defense (259.3 YPG).
If Auburn is going to hoist the crystal football on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, it's going to have to shut down a DGB clone: Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
The 6'5", 234-pound redshirt sophomore from Belle Glade, Fla. has a 50 catches for 957 yards and a team-high 14 touchdowns. His big frame makes him a matchup nightmare for any secondary, particularly one that struggles in pass coverage to begin with.
Gus Malzahn recognizes the challenges Benjamin presents, but is confident in his team, according to Joe Medley of the Anniston (Ala.) Star.
Malzahn: We've played talented receivers. It's a complete defensive deal. We have to keep from giving up big plays.— Joe Medley (@jmedley_star) December 18, 2013
Chris Davis will likely be charged with shutting down Benjamin.
Auburn's No. 1 defensive back was primarily matched up with L'Damian Washington—another big-bodied wide receiver—in Atlanta, but will likely draw Benjamin more times than not since he's the only wide receiver built like an NBA power forward on Florida State's two-deep.
Davis became an Auburn legend with his 109-yard missed field goal return for a touchdown to beat Alabama, but has been solid in coverage this season when he's been healthy. He doesn't have an interception but has a team-high 13 pass breakups in 11 games and made the game-clinching pass breakup on Green-Beckham on fourth down with 4:27 to play against Missouri.
After missing two games—including Auburn's lone loss of the season to LSU—with an ankle injury, Davis has progressively improved down the stretch. It's something the coaching staff has taken note of, according to Austin Penny of 247Sports.com.
Malzahn says that CB Chris Davis has improved throughout the season. Says his leadership has also helped.— Austin W. Penny (@awpenny247) December 18, 2013
At 5'11", 200 pounds, Davis will be at a six-inch size disadvantage, but played bigger than his frame against Missouri and will need to do the same against the Seminoles.
How many receiving yards with Kelvin Benjamin have vs. Auburn?
As my colleague Michael Felder points out, quarterback Jameis Winston makes smart decisions with pressure in his face, and takes shots deep when he has time. Benjamin's ability to win those 50/50 battles deep is a big reason he leads the team in yards per reception at 19.14. Davis will have to win those battles for Auburn to hoist the crystal.
But what happens if Florida State gets creative and gets Benjamin across from 5'10" cornerback Jonathon Mincy?
The stats say otherwise, but Mincy wasn't bad against the bigger-framed Missouri wide receivers in the SEC Football Championship Game. But with a month to prepare, expect head coach Jimbo Fisher to work in ways to create that favorable matchup during the game.
Kelvin Benjamin vs. the Auburn secondary will be an interesting chess match to watch on Jan. 6. The winner of that matchup will likely be the team leaving California with some hardware.