BCS Championship Game: FSU's Linebackers Will Have Their Hands Full with Auburn

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterDecember 18, 2013

Getty Images

Auburn took "ground-and-pound" to the next level down the stretch, rushing for an average of 402 yards per game over the final four games of the season to claim SEC supremacy and earn a spot in the BCS National Championship Game against No. 1 Florida State.

The unstoppable force will again go up against the immovable object, as the multi-dimensional Auburn rushing attack will face a Seminole defense that's giving up just 116.54 yards per game on the ground.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and defensive end Mario Edwards are the centerpieces of an ultra-athletic defensive line that has limited rushers to just 3.14 yards per carry.

Nov 2, 2013; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Auburn Tigers running back Tre Mason (21) blocks for quarterback Nick Marshall (14) against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Auburn defeated Arkansas 35-17. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chena
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

But Auburn's rushing attack that, as my colleague Michael Felder pointed out, thrives on deception before and during plays has a tendency to use the athleticism of a defense against it. It is a pure power attack that routinely stresses the defense with multiple options off of basic strong-side power looks.

Because of that, it won't be the defensive line that will face the most pressure for the Seminoles. It'll be the linebackers—SAM linebacker Christian Jones and MIKE linebacker Terrance Smith, in particular.

Auburn QB Nick Marshall (14) and TE Brandon Fulse (11)
Auburn QB Nick Marshall (14) and TE Brandon Fulse (11)Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn has three options off of virtually every running play, but almost all of them include fullback Jay Prosch, tight end Brandon Fulse and/or pulling offensive linemen leading the way for either quarterback Nick Marshall or running back Tre Mason.

If Auburn blocks properly—which happens more times than not—it will put pressure on Jones to make the proper decisions to fill the proper gaps to prevent either Marshall outside or Mason up the middle from breaking big runs.

That's easier said than done. 

Jones was a second-team All-ACC selection from the coaches this year and will be joined by Smith and first-team All-ACC linebacker Telvin Smith in the Seminole linebacker corps. But it's Jones that will have the weight of the Seminoles on his shoulders.

Auburn's option plays are read off of the defensive end, which typically gets Marshall (or Mason when it inverts the read-option) alone in space with the SAM linebacker.

When Auburn uses either Mason or Marshall (as in the play above) between the tackles, it'll be up to Smith to shed the lead blocker and make the play, because the last thing a defense needs is either one of those players loose in the middle of the field.

In the highlight above, Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson (No. 45) got hung up by Prosch and left tackle Greg Robinson, and Marshall cruised by for a big gain.

Florida State has a great defense, specifically in the linebacker corps.

Those linebackers will be tested by Auburn's dynamic rushing offense, which puts more emphasis on athletes being disciplined rather than athletes simply being athletes. 

Luckily for defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, the Seminoles have a month to prepare for it. The question becomes, though, will it matter?

Auburn's rushing offense is simple to diagnose but almost impossible to stop.

That should make for a fantastic championship game on Jan. 6.