November 24, 2012; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron (10) points out the defense against the Auburn Tigers during the second quarter at Bryant Denny Stadium. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
This Saturday the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (11-0) meet the fourth ranked Auburn Tigers (10-1) in the 78th Iron Bowl, in what may be the biggest Iron bowl in history with the most on the line. The winner is the SEC West Champion and goes on to the SEC Championship. For Alabama that means a shot at the BCS National Championship if they win the SEC Championship. It’s not as certain for Auburn but the possibility is still there for a National Championship as well. One thing is for certain, its winner take all this year.
Stay disciplined and stop the run
When playing Auburn, discipline is one of the biggest factors in attempting to stop their high-powered running game. Auburn uses a lot of different motions and formations to confuse defenses and get them out of position for the various trap plays, dives, end arounds and options they use during a game.
The first and possibly most important factor for the defense is controlling the line of scrimmage, having sound gap control (or clogging up the holes in the offensive line) and being physical on the line of scrimmage. Next, the outside linebackers and defensive ends must stay disciplined in not either running too far up field in a pass rush or crashing down the line of scrimmage too quick to chase a running back. Losing discipline in those areas is what causes Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall to gash defenses on the ground.
Landon Collins is going to be huge in this game, as I expect him to playing very close to the line of scrimmage most of the game as almost an extra linebacker against the running attack of Auburn. Nick Saban has referenced many times that when defenses try to get “too cute” or do too many exotic things against Auburn they get burned, because when players have to think too much about those types of things the fundamentals and discipline can break down.
That discipline isn’t just in the running game either; the cornerbacks will have to be extremely disciplined all day. Auburn has struggled in downfield passing this season, but at various times Marshall has hit big plays in the passing game. His success has come primarily from cornerbacks being burned by looking into the offensive backfield to see if Marshall was scrambling. This was the very thing that got Alabama defensive backs in trouble against Texas A&M. Marshall is not Johnny Manziel, but he is mobile enough to make cornerbacks think about him taking off and that can hurt a defense badly on a big pass play.
Control the clock and don’t turn the ball over
The best defense against a good offense is having a better offense. The more Alabama controls the clock offensively, the fewer opportunities Auburn has to tire out the Alabama defense with the hurry up offense. Auburn has allowed over four yards per carry, and over 150 yards rushing, so Alabama is going to try and pound on that defense. One of the areas Auburn has been very good at is rushing the passer, piling up 24 sacks this year, and the running game will be great to slow up that pass rush to allow some big plays in the passing game. Auburn has allowed over 250 yards passing as well but has only allowed 11 TDs in the passing game.
Alabama must not turn the ball over. They did four times against Mississippi State, and this can’t happen against Auburn. Those plays can be big turning points in a game, and giving a fast-paced offense and potent running game more opportunities could be detrimental to any team.
All of this, whether controlling the clock or not turning the ball over or having gap control on defense, all comes back staying focused and disciplined. Discipline will be the biggest factor for the Crimson Tide as they try to continue the quest for a third consecutive national championship.