Alabama Football: Why Crimson Tide Must Be Wary of These 20 Opposing Players

Jimmy McMurreyAnalyst IIJune 11, 2012

Alabama Football: Why Crimson Tide Must Be Wary of These 20 Opposing Players

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    The Alabama Crimson Tide will face some strong competition in 2012, and every team looking to unseat the defending national champions will have to lean heavily on some individual players to get the job done. The Tide must be wary of these players.

    Fortunately for the Tide faithful, Alabama and Nick Saban have a plan to counter each of these players. 

    No matter what secret weapon each team has, Alabama has one just as powerful to shut them down.

    Here are each team's trump cards and how Alabama will counter them. 

    Players are listed in the order that Alabama will face them. 

Denard Robinson

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    Quarterback, Michigan, 6'1", 193 lbs. 

    Why he is dangerous

    Denard Robinson is not a pocket passer. He's not great at passing in general. 

    Robinson is, however, a game-changer. 

    Even in Michigan's new system, Robinson is a dangerous player.

    In 2011, when he was expected to be more of a passer than a runner, he rushed for 221 times for 1,176 yards. 

    As a quarterback, he tossed for 2,173 yards with 20 touchdowns...but he also threw 15 picks.

    Alabama's counter: C.J. Mosley, Linebacker, 6'2", 234 lbs.

    The Tide's best "do-it-all" linebacker is junior C.J. Mosley, and they will need a do it all guy to stop Robinson. 

    In a heartbeat, Mosley will know whether or not Robinson intends to throw the ball or run. 

    In another heartbeat, Mosley will know if Robinson has changed his mind. 

    Mosley can stop the run and the pass, and he will cover the field with such effectiveness that Robinson will be confused for 60 minutes. 

Jordan Kovacs

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    Safety, Michigan, 6'1", 195 lbs.

    Why he is dangerous

    Jordan Kovacs is a stout safety, but where he's most dangerous is behind the line of scrimmage.

    He showed his true potential in this aspect when Michigan faced Ohio State (in one of college football's greatest rivalries) in 2011 when he sacked the quarterback once and had two tackles for losses.

    After his showing against the Wolverines' arch rivals, Michigan will be sure to try and exploit his talents against Alabama. 

    Alabama's counter: Michael Williams, Tight End, 6'6", 270 lbs. 

    Michael Williams' job is not to take on defensive linemen, but rather to clobber errant linebackers and defensive backs looking to make a play in the back field. 

    Williams is one of the best blocking tight ends in the nation and plays like an undersized offensive tackle. 

    Opposing defenses will have little luck trying to blitz against Williams, and Kovacs will have no success in Alabama's backfield. 

Tyler Wilson

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    Quarterback, Arkansas, 6'3", 220 lbs. 

    Why he is dangerous

    Tyler Wilson is arguably the best quarterback in the SEC heading into 2012 and will likely retain that role at the end of the season. 

    Wilson did not make the Hogs fanbase forget about Ryan Mallett, but he did a hell of a job replacing him. 

    In the SEC, Wilson is already a household name.

    Alabama's counter: DeMarcus Milliner, Cornerback, 6'1", 196 lbs.

    Wilson lost the majority of his proven receiver corps to the NFL, but one remains: 6'3", 209-pound Cobi Hamilton.

    Hamilton will be Wilson's primary target, and Alabama's Dee Milliner will stick to him like glue. 

    Without a go-to receiver, Wilson will struggle with his new, inexperienced army of promising receivers who just won't be ready by Week 2. 

Knile Davis

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    Running Back, Arkansas, 6'1", 226 lbs. 

    Why he is dangerous

    As far as production and experience goes, the SEC cannot offer anything better than Knile Davis. 

    He can run anywhere on the field, be it between the tackles or the perimeter, pass block as well as any tight end and is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. 

    Davis missed the entire 2011 season due to an ankle injury, but he put up over 1,300 yards in 2010. 

    Arkansas will have the incredible rushing attack it so coveted in 2011, and Davis will spearhead it.

    South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore has all the hype, but his production thus far cannot top that of Knile Davis. 

    Alabama's counter: Nico Johnson, Linebacker, 6'3", 245 lbs. 

    Alabama's rush defense in 2011 was incredible; they topped the SEC with only 72 rushing yards allowed per game. 

    Nico Johnson was the most underrated part of that rush defense. 

    He can play pass coverage pretty well, but he's a pure run-stuffing linebacker. 

    If Davis happens to find a hole in Alabama's 3-4 base defense, he will be stuffed at the line of scrimmage by Johnson a split second after he commits to that hole. 

    Johnson is arguably the most experienced linebacker in the SEC, and his M.O. is to stop the run. Davis will go nowhere. 

James Franklin

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    Quarterback, Missouri Tigers, 6'2", 225 lbs. 

    Why he is dangerous

    James Franklin will lead his Missouri Tigers into the SEC as one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. 

    He is basically what former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson was supposed to develop into, but never did. 

    In his first year as a starter, Franklin threw for 2,872 yards with 21 touchdowns and rushed for 981 with 15 touchdowns. 

    He can throw and run the ball in equal measure, and he's smart about both.

    Alabama's counter: Vinnie Sunseri, Safety, 6'1", 217 lbs. 

    The perfect guy to counter both Franklin's air and ground attack is Vinnie Sunseri. 

    It won't matter if Sunseri wins the starting job or plays in nickel and dime packages, as he will be on the field a lot either way. 

    Franklin will do his best to avoid Tide safety Robert Lester when passing and attempt to pick on Sunseri. It will be a huge mistake with Sunseri's proven aptitude for interceptions. 

    If Franklin wants to attack the ground, he's going to get his eggs scrambled if he gets to the second level. Sunseri is just as brutal of a hitter as Mark Barron was. 

    Check out this video of Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers getting hammered by Barron. Sunseri will lay that same kind of hurt on scrambling QB's, which includes Franklin. 

Andrew Wilson

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    Linebacker, Missouri, 6'3", 230 lbs.

    Why he is dangerous

    Andrew Wilson isn't a big-time name, but he is a quality run defender. He made double-digit tackles four times last year against some of Mizzou's toughest opponents, including Kansas State and Texas A&M.

    He led the Tigers in 2011 with 98 total tackles, 9.5 of which were for losses. He has a penchant for zeroing in on running backs and stuffing them at or behind the line of scrimmage.

    Alabama's counter: Michael Williams, Tight End, 6'6", 270 lbs.

    To further take advantage of Wilson's ability against the run, Mizzou has moved him from middle linebacker to the strongside in their 4-3 defense. 

    Once again, it will be up to Michael Williams to handle blocking duties. Wilson isn't much of a threat to opposing quarterbacks, so William's job will be easy: stop Wilson. 

    Wilson won't be making many plays in the backfield while he has to match up against this bulldozer of a tight end. 

E.J. Gaines

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    Cornerback, Missouri, 5'10", 185 lbs.

    Why he is dangerous

    E.J. Gaines is one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the nation. Not only is he ferocious, but he has an eye for the ball as well. 

    He hauled in three interceptions last season, and while that doesn't seem like much two of them came against some of the best passing attacks in the nation, Oklahoma (before wideout Ryan Broyles was injured) and Oklahoma State. 

    What makes him really dangerous is his national third-place honors last season in passes defended with a whopping 19. 

    Gaines is a reliable force for the Tigers when they need a play, and throwing against him is very difficult.

    Alabama's counter: Kevin Norwood, Wide Receiver, 6'2", 195 lbs.

    After his performance in the national title game against LSU, Kevin Norwood will likely be the Tide's top receiver in 2012. 

    Other receivers may be more talented, but Norwood is the most experienced, and that goes a long way in Nick Saban's book. 

    He is a dangerous target that has proven he can easily go over the top of smaller defenders to come down with the catch. 

    Quarterback A.J. McCarron and Norwood will have a field day against Gaines when they keep the ball just out of his reach, just like they did in the national title game against Tyrann Mathieu. 

Tyler Bray

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    Quarterback, Tennessee, 6'6", 210 lbs. 

    Why he is dangerous

    Tyler Bray is one of the most promising quarterbacks in the nation, but he has thus far proven very little beyond beating up on weak opposition. 

    He put up over 400 passing yards against Cincinnati in 2011, but was only able to complete 54.5 percent of his passes against Georgia.

    If his supporting cast played to the same level, he would be doing a lot better, but he's a dangerous passer that can and will slash defenses when given enough time. 

    Alabama's counter: Adrian Hubbard, Jack linebacker, 6'6", 248 lbs. 

    Alabama's replacement for Courtney Upshaw looks to be just as menacing if the spring scrimmages are any indication of his talent. 

    His size, length and talent allow him to get to the quarterback with surprising ease, and Alabama will need that against Bray. 

    Hubbard will constantly pressure the Vols pocket and keep Bray on his heels. With or without sacks, he will force some bad throws from Bray, which sometimes prove to be better than sacks. 

Da'Rick Rogers

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    Wide Receiver, Tennessee, 6'3", 215 lbs. 

    Why he is dangerous

    As a team, the Tennessee Volunteers have been struggling in recent years, but Da'Rick Rogers was been a consistent weapon through all the 2011 losses.

    He has blue-chip size and speed and can make things happen with little to no help from his quarterback. 

    In 2011, he hauled in 67 passes for 1,040 yards (15.52 average) and nine touchdowns. Those numbers are very comparable to that of Julio Jones in 2010. 

    His best game in 2011 (with quality of competition considered) was against Arkansas, where he caught five passes for 106 yards. Quarterback Tyler Bray was still out with injury at that time. 

    Alabama's counter: Robert Lester, Safety, 6'2", 210 lbs.

    Alabama cornerback, DeMarcus Milliner, will be assigned to take on Rogers, but he is going to need some help. 

    Robert Lester plays to his potential against the pass, and he does an excellent job helping out his cornerbacks against tough receivers. 

    A healthy Tyler Bray will constantly focus on Rogers, and more often than not, the Tide will need to double team him. 

    The combination of Milliner and Lester will effectively make Rogers irrelevant. 

Johnthan Banks

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    Cornerback, Mississippi State, 6'2", 185 lbs.

    Why he is dangerous

    Yes, his name is spelled "Johnthan;" it's not a typo. 

    Banks started as a safety at Mississippi State, but moved to cornerback in 2010. It was a smart move by the Bulldogs. 

    He has the ideal frame for a cornerback and the speed to match. He can match up against any receiver, and his long build makes it difficult to throw over his head.

    He made a huge impact for the Bulldogs in 2011 as a stout defender against both the pass and the run.

    Banks made 71 total tackles, eight for losses and three sacks with three QB hurries. He is proficient with the corner blitz.

    In coverage, he came up with five picks and returned one for a touchdown and broke up nine passes.

    He also forced three fumbles to boot. 

    Alabama's counter: A.J. McCarron, Quarterback, 6'4", 210 lbs.

    Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron will need to have Banks' number for his team to have a smooth game against the Bulldogs.

    McCarron will recognize the danger of Banks and will avoid making careless throws against this ball hawk. 

    It will be McCarron's pocket presence, however, that will make Banks irrelevant. 

    McCarron's ability to feel the pocket and detect blitzes is the most underrated part of his game, so any time Banks blitzes, it is just going to make McCarron's task of finding open receivers easier. 

Sam Montgomery

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    Defensive End, LSU, 6'4", 245 lbs. 

    Why he is dangerous

    Sam Montgomery is an incredibly dangerous pass-rusher, and he will certainly be a first round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. 

    He came up with nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for losses.

    Interestingly, he only hurried the quarterback once in 2011. That just means he doesn't miss; if he beats a lineman, he will hit the quarterback. 

    His best game of 2011 was against Alabama in November when he sacked A.J. McCarron twice and made two other tackles behind the line of scrimmage. 

    LSU's defense can be very confusing, but Montgomery typically lines up on the quarterbacks blindside. 

    He is going to apply constant pressure to McCarron for the entire game.

    Alabama's counter: Cyrus Kouandjio, Left Tackle, 6'6", 322 lbs. 

    The Tide's new left tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio, isn't as experienced as his predecessor Barrett Jones, but he is arguably more talented. He is certainly more well-built. 

    Kouandjio will be more than seasoned enough by the time the Tide faces LSU in November, and it will be his sole responsibility to manhandle Montgomery. 

    With LSU's four-man front, Kouandjio will receive little to no help against his quarry. 

    Kouandjio, however, is well on his way to proving his status as the No. 1 offensive tackle in his recruiting class was spot-on. 

    He is around 80 lbs. heavier than Montgomery and just as quick, so Kouandjio should have no issues keeping Montgomery on the turf and away from McCarron. 

Barkevious Mingo

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    Defensive End, LSU, 6'5", 240 lbs. 

    Why he is dangerous

    Barkevious "Keke" Mingo just might be more dangerous than his partner in crime, Sam Montgomery, and will find himself in the first round of the NFL draft as well. 

    He made two fewer sacks than Montgomery in 2011, but he had 1.5 more tackles for loss. He accrued the majority of his stats from strong side.

    When he got to the quarterback, the two were looking straight at each other. 

    For a clearer example, Mingo is a smaller, faster version of Marcell Dareus with a lot more freedom to work his magic.

    Mingo is able to play anywhere on the line, and against the Tide, he will be matched up against right tackle D.J. Fluker and right guard Anthony Steen. 

    Alabama's counter: A.J. McCarron, Quarterback, 6'4", 210 lbs.

    Fluker and Steen are powerful run blockers, but they both leave a lot to be desired in pass protection (especially Steen). 

    Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron will have to rely upon himself quite a bit to prevent Mingo from reaching his goal. 

    McCarron does an amazing job keeping his eyes down field while keeping track of opposing pocket-pushers. 

    Mingo will be attacking from places clearly within McCarron's vision, so it will be up to McCarron to know when to move, throw it away or scramble. 

    Alabama only allowed 18 sacks last season, and McCarron was the most underrated part of that stat. He has an incredible feel for the pocket and knows how to extend plays. 

    Fluker will handle Mingo for the majority of the game, but when (not if) he fails to stop Mingo, McCarron will make a joke of Mingo's efforts. 

Tyrann Mathieu

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    Cornerback, LSU, 5'9", 175 lbs.

    Why he is dangerous

    He's the Honey Badger and a 2011 Heisman finalist.

    Tyrann Mathieu has an incredible feel for the game and causes turnovers with ease.

    He forced six fumbles in 2011, grabbed four of them off the turf and hauled in two interceptions.

    Mathieu is also a dangerous pass-rusher from his corner position and made 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hurries and 7.5 tackles for losses.

    He plays best in support roles, creating havoc when opposing players are occupied with someone else. 

    Alabama's counter: A.J. McCarron, Quarterback, 6'4", 210 lbs.

    Once again, A.J. McCarron will be the counter to this LSU play-maker. 

    McCarron proved he has the Honey Badger's number in the national title game. He shut down Mathieu each and every snap. 

    Mathieu will not be able to get to McCarron in the backfield, and in pass coverage, McCarron will ruthlessly attack him. 

    As amazing as the Honey Badger is in support roles, his effectiveness in typical cornerback duties leaves a lot to be desired. 

    McCarron knows how to throw over Mathieu's short frame and proved it in the national championship game, and he will do it again and again. 

LSU's Running Backs

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    Michael Ford, 5'10", 215 lbs.

    Spencer Ware, 5'11", 223 lbs.

    Alfred Blue, 6'2", 215 lbs.

    Kenny Hilliard, 5'10", 225 lbs.

    Why they are dangerous:

    LSU has a true running back by committee with their four-headed monster. 

    They have four powerful running backs that can run between the tackles or the outside. They have both speed and power. 

    If one is hurt or tired there are three others that can perform to the same standard. 

    In 2011, they combined for 2,338 yards and 30 touchdowns. 

    Alabama's counter: Jesse Williams, Nose Tackle, 6'4", 319 lbs.

    If Alabama wants to have any success in stopping LSU's run game it will start up front. 

    The Tide's new nose tackle, Jesse Williams, isn't as experienced as his predecessor (Josh Chapman), but he's a hell of a lot more talented. 

    Williams is a beast in every aspect. He's big, powerful, fast, and has a motor that just doesn't quit. On top of that he has very little body fat for such a big guy. 

    It will be up to Williams to impose his will and control LSU's veteran offense line that has proven they can hang with the Tide. 

    Williams will dominate the trenches and limit the options of LSU's running backs. He will be the Tide's best hole-clogger since Terrence Cody. 

Zach Mettenberger

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    Quarterback, LSU, 6'5", 222 lbs.

    Why he is dangerous

    If LSU head coach Les Miles were not so stubborn and had played Zach Mettenberger instead of Jordan Jefferson, the Tigers' outcome in the national title game may have been a lot different. 

    He wasn't red-shirted in 2011, so it's a bit of a mystery as to why he wasn't played more.

    Mettenberger, a former Georgia Bulldog, had a chance to become the starter over Aaron Murray before his transfer

    At the moment, he is pure potential and size, but the Crimson Tide would do well to watch him. He just might become the best QB in the SEC, regardless of the offensive scheme he plays in. 

    Alabama's counter: Quinton Dial, Defensive End, 6'6", 294 lbs. 

    Quinton Dial is expected to take over the starting left defensive end role at Alabama, and he will need every bit of his lanky yet muscular build to secure a win over LSU. 

    Dial will be attacking from the left side of Alabama's defensive front and will be the Tide's main pass-rushing threat from that side of the line. 

    He will perform the same duties Marcell Dareus did in 2009 and 2010. 

    He may not get to the quarterback much, but Dial will need to force a lot a pressure on Mettenberger and create opportunities for the Tide's linebackers to keep the defense in positions to make plays. 

    Dial has yet to thoroughly prove himself against SEC competition, but if he lives up to his potential, he will make the November showdown a nightmare for the LSU quarterback. 

Sean Porter

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    Linebacker, Texas A&M, 6'2", 220 lbs. 

    Why he is dangerous

    Sean Porter plays the strongside linebacker position as well as any Tide player in the past five years, and that's no exaggeration. 

    He is an incredible defender against the run, but he can rush the passer with brutal intent as well. 

    Porter sacked opposing quarterbacks 9.5 times in 2011 and made 17 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. 

    In A&M's 3-4 base defense, Porter is asked to do a lot, but he does everything asked of him quite well. 

    Alabama's counter: D.J. Fluker, Right Tackle, 6'6", 335 lbs. 

    It will be up to the Tide's right tackle, D.J. Fluker, to stop Porter dead in his tracks. 

    The Aggies love to send Porter into the opponents' backfield. Whether it's a run or pass play, Porter will be sent to stop both. 

    As A&M's defense only has three pure defensive linemen, Fluker will have some freedom to work against the smaller Porter. 

    Fluker is not the most fleet of foot, but he has enough quickness to keep Porter away from both A.J. McCarron and any running back toting the ball. 

Damontre Moore

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    Jack Linebacker, Texas A&M, 6'4", 245 lbs. 

    Why he is dangerous

    Let me simplify this for Alabama fans: Damontre Moore is basically Courtney Upshaw. 

    He plays the same position (they call it "Joker"), and he plays it well. 

    Moore had 8.5 sacks in 2011 and 17.5 tackles for losses, and when he gets a bead on something in the backfield, he hits his mark. 

    Moore's accolades weren't just against weak opponents. He turned into a man-beast against Kansas State during a 53-50 quadruple overtime loss in 2011.

    He racked up two sacks and 3.5 tackles for losses in that game and forced one fumble (and three more in 2011). 

    Damontre Moore is a deadly defender, and he will do just fine in the SEC. 

    Alabama's counter: Anthony Steen, Right Guard, 6'3", 303 lbs.

    Moore is an edge rusher, so why is Anthony Steen his counter? I'll tell you why. 

    Moore is just as versatile as Courtney Upshaw was, and Upshaw was moved around a lot on Alabama's defensive front and often played on the left side of the line.

    Surely, the Aggies already realize how fruitless it will be to attack the Tide's blindside with left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and left guard Chance Warmack there, so they will look to Alabama's weakest link. 

    Mark my words: A&M will often play Moore on the left side of their defensive line and have him attack to right tackle D.J. Fluker's left. 

    That will match him up against Steen, who has proven numerous times that he is the worst pass defender on the Tide's offensive line (though he isn't half bad). 

    Steen was embarrassed several times against pass-rushers the past two years, but he is now an experienced offensive lineman with more than enough experience and muscle to pound anyone that comes his way. 

Emory Blake

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    Wide Receiver, Auburn, 6'1", 197 lbs.

    Why he is dangerous

    Some Alabama fans think that the 2012 Iron Bowl will be the same blowout from 2011. 

    If you are such a fan, put down the Kool-Aid and recognize Auburn as a powerful opponent, because that is what it will be in 2012. Nick Saban knows it, too. 

    It will be led by one of the best receivers in the nation, Emory Blake. This time around, Blake will have a strong supporting cast and an experienced quarterback in Clint Moseley (who will win the starting position over Kiehl Frazier, I'm certain). 

    Auburn's passing game was limited in 2011, as its quarterbacks and offensive line were far too raw to make a difference, but Blake was not part of the problem.

    Blake hauled in 613 passing yards with only 36 catches. That was good for a 17.03-yard average and third in the SEC.

    He is a dangerous receiver, and now, he will have a quarterback capable of throwing balls his way.

    Alabama's counter: DeMarcus Milliner, Cornerback, 6'1", 196 lbs.

    Auburn's strength will not lie in their passing attack in 2012, and the majority of their air attack will be up to Blake and his quarterback. 

    It will be DeMarcus Milliner's job to handle Blake and shut him down. 

    Milliner is perfectly built to counter Blake, both in size and speed. Size-wise, they are identical. 

    Now that Milliner has a solid grasp on the Alabama playbook, he will have no trouble sticking Blake on an island.

    Blake, who will prove to be one of the best receivers in the SEC, could do absolutely nothing against the Tide in 2011 with zero catches. He will do better in 2012, but so will Milliner. 

    Milliner will continue that trend in 2012. 

Philip Lutzenkirchen

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    Tight End, Auburn, 6'4", 264 lbs. 

    Why he is dangerous

    I don't speak German, but I'm pretty sure Lutzenkirchen mean "touchdown maker."

    Lutzie is one of the best all-around tight ends in the nation. He can catch balls and block (pass or run) in equal measure. 

    He is one of those guys that will hit you when you least expect it, and that's exactly what he did in the 2010 Iron Bowl when he beat linebacker Dont'a Hightower for a touchdown reception. 

    He scored the most important touchdown in the most historic Iron Bowl ever. 

    Alabama's counter: C.J. Mosley, Linebacker, 6'2", 234 lbs.

    Alabama's C.J. Mosley can stop the run, but he excels in pass coverage near the line of scrimmage. 

    That is exactly where Lutzenkirchen makes his money as a receiver. 

    The play he made in the 2010 Iron Bowl where he fooled Dont'a Hightower wouldn't have worked against Mosley. 

    This guy can guard any receiving target on the slant routes through the middle, and Alabama will need him to shut down any tricks involving Lutzenkirchen. 

Auburn's Running Backs

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    Onterio McCalebb, 5'11", 174 lbs.

    Tre Mason, 5'10", 190 lbs. 

    Mike Blakely, 5'9", 206 lbs.

    Corey Grant, 5'11", 193 lbs. 

    Why they are dangerous

    Auburn's four-headed monster at running back is the opposite of LSU's; they are an incredible combination of perimeter specialists. 

    They can run through the tackles behind the Tigers' powerful interior offensive line, but they are deadly on the outside. 

    Alabama's linebackers have been excellent run-stoppers in recent years, but Nick Saban's propensity to stack up on big linebackers somewhat limits the defenses ability to stop outside runs. 

    It was made painfully obvious in 2011 when the Georgia Southern Eagles gashed the Tide for 302 rushing yards in 2011, though they ran a pure wishbone offense. 

    Regardless, Alabama's linebackers are not designed to run sideline to sideline, and Auburn's running backs will push them to their limit.

    Alabama's counter: Xzavier Dickson, Outside Linebacker, 6'3", 240 lbs. 

    I had Dickson pegged to be Alabama's next Jack linebacker, but he looks to be even more dangerous as the Tide's strongside linebacker. 

    He poses a significant threat to opposing quarterbacks from that position, but his superhuman quickness allows him to play the run like a linebacker with the size of a 4-3 defensive end. 

    Alabama's weakside will be stacked with talented playmakers, and it will be up to Dickson to stuff any strongside runs at the line of scrimmage. 

    Dickson's football instincts, talent, and new-found experience will allow him to limit Auburn's ground game hopes.