Auburn is getting set to travel to Tuscaloosa on Friday (2:30 p.m., ET, CBS) to take on Alabama in the annual Iron Bowl.
Needless to say, this year's game carries more weight than many in recent memory. This is the first year that both teams have been ranked in the rivalry game since 2005.
Auburn has championship aspirations and is out to break a two-game losing streak against the Crimson Tide. Alabama is looking to stay in the running for a BCS game and finish the season undefeated at home.
Something has to give. It should be a fantastic SEC game. Here's a look at five keys to the game, if Auburn is to escape Bryant-Denny Stadium with a win.
Auburn Cornerback and Kick Returner Demond Washington
Bryant-Denny will be in a frenzy well before kickoff on Friday. For many key Auburn starters, it will be their first experience on the road in an Iron Bowl. Auburn needs some good things to happen to them early in the game to survive the initial storm.
An early defensive stop or an early touchdown would go a long way towards settling into the game. On the contrary, Alabama is not the kind of team you want to trail by 14 or 21 early. Their defense, especially against the run, will be one of the most stiff tests Auburn has faced.
Starting fast must be a priority for the Auburn coaching staff. They can’t afford to go down 21-7 like they did two weeks ago against Georgia.
Josh Bynes and Nosa Eguae
Third-down stops will be key for Auburn’s defense. Will they be able to get off the field when they have the chance to? Long third-down conversions can be devastating for a defense.
On the other hand, if Ted Roof’s defense can find a way to force Bama into fourth downs, they’ll be able to get the ball to Cameron Newton and the offense more often and avoid fatigue in the fourth quarter, when the defense has been most effective.
Auburn Head Coach Gene Chizik
Auburn has plenty to play for—the National Championship aspirations, a two-game losing streak to Alabama, and the off-the-field allegations have this team hungry to prove a point to the nation.
They will play passionately and play extremely hard. However, they will have to control their emotions better than they did against Georgia. Playing hard while playing under control will be key.
Alabama won’t need any help in gaining yards or scoring points; they can do plenty of that on their own. Auburn must make Alabama earn all their big plays. If they don't self-destruct, they'll have a good chance to win the game.
Auburn Quarterback Cameron Newton
Kirby Smart will attempt to make Newton a marked man.
The offensive line must continue to perform like they have all season, and Newton himself has to be smart in choosing when to take hits and when to get down to avoid them.
The running game being effective and receivers getting open also helps protect Newton and gives him options. If the offense is clicking on all cylinders, Cam should be able to stay healthy and be effective.
Auburn Running Back Michael Dyer
Auburn doesn’t have to win time of possession; it’s pretty tough to win it in Gus Malzahn’s offense. But they must find a way to keep it somewhat close.
Auburn’s defense can’t afford to be on the field for 40 minutes of the game. Auburn must control the clock and line of scrimmage with the running game. By doing that and gaining first downs, the defense can rest and the quick pace can wear down Alabama’s defense.
Those are my keys to the game for Auburn, what are yours? Comment below.