Whatever it is, Auburn's defensive linemen have a singular focus this week when it comes to Alabama running back Mark Ingram.
"We said he's not going to win the Heisman on us," junior Michael Goggans said.
Easier said than done. Ingram enters the game a Heisman hopeful, leading the SEC in both rushing yards (1,399) and rushing touchdowns (12) and coming in a close second to Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster in yards per carry (6.8).
Stopping him is a tall order, especially for an Auburn rush defense that is giving up 169.7 yards per game, 10th in the SEC and 88th nationally.
Those troubles have led to larger problems. Auburn has already set a school record by allowing 297 points, shattering the previous mark of 267 set by the 1976 team. The Tigers are allowing 27.0 points per game, on pace to break the record of 26.2 set in 1948.
Enter Alabama, a team averaging 32.2 points per game and led by Ingram, who has topped the 140 yards in five of his last seven games.
Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes said Alabama doesn't do anything too complicated on offense; the Crimson Tide simply lines up and runs right at a defense. Ingram takes care of the rest.
"Ingram's the type of guy, when he sees that big hole, he's going to cut it back and turn it into a big run," Bynes said. "He breaks an awful lot of tackles. A lot of times it ain't that first guy wrapping him up."
"He’s one of those backs that it seems as the game goes on, he gets stronger," Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "He makes a lot of people miss. He gets a lot of yards after contact. We've got to get a lot of hats to the ball for four quarters."
A couple of housekeeping items I have to add here:
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- Fun fact that I didn't find out until after I had filed my story: The team that has finished with more rushing yards has won each of the last 11 Iron Bowls.
- Auburn went through a 90-minute workout Monday in full pads. "We had a good practice tonight," Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. "Went in full pads and felt like we had a physical practice and got a lot accomplished out there today and I think we're on the right track. The kids were enthusiastic and excited about practicing and preparing. We'll need every minute we can get, but up to this point we're pleased with where we're at."
- Chizik had this to say about the strides he thinks his undermanned defense has made this year: "If you just look earlier in the year, in terms of third-down production, being able to get off the field, I think we struggled with that a lot early. I think we've gotten better as the season's gone on. Again, we've been a little sporadic when it comes to the turnovers. You can see in the games we've won we've been able to get turnovers and get the ball back to our offense. We've been really good at times against the run, at times it's been disappointing. There's a lot of small victories in there. It's going in the right direction. Again, third downs is one of the glaring things to me, where we've been able to get off the field early. We scored a lot of points this year from defense, whether it's blocked kicks and return those for touchdowns or blocked extra points and return those for points. We scored several times defensively through interceptions and things of that nature. We've done some nice things. But it's our whole team, I think consistency's been the thing that's really glaring that hasn't been good all the time."
- Injured defensive back Aairon Savage has spoken with cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley about the possibility of returning for a sixth season. Savage, a fifth-year senior, suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury during summer workouts after missing all of last year with a knee injury. The soon-to-be 23-year-old has still diligently attended Auburn's practices and has shown up to home games on the sidelines wearing his No. 2 uniform. "Initially Aairon didn't know — he had some other avenues he was pursuing and everything," Lolley said. "The last four or five weeks, we've looked at it differently. He's itching to play again and the whole thing is he's out there every practice watching."
- Lolley said he, Savage and Chizik will sit down after the season to talk about the possibility of him returning for another season. Savage would have to petition the NCAA after the season to get another year of eligibility. "He's a great kid and a great leader," Lolley said. "We'll just see where it goes." Savage, an Albany, Ga., native, has 14 starts in 19 career games. He's made 79 tackles and has one career interception.
- Running back Onterio McCalebb is on the mend again after rolling his injured right ankle again during the Georgia game. "It was great to have him back for like a quarter," running backs coach Curtis Luper joked. McCalebb finished with 11 carries for 60 yards against the Bulldogs, although he was laboring through the fourth quarter. "Yeah, I was playing through a little pain at the end, but I couldn't come out of the game," the true freshman said. "I had to be out there when my team needed me."
- Luper said McCalebb would be ready to go for the Iron Bowl. "We need that speed," Luper said. "He's a big-time change-of-pace guy for us. He can make some things that are wrong right."
- All of Auburn's coaches seemed to be extremely impressed with Alabama's defense. And they all seemed to like a different part of it. To wit:
- Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor: "Big and fast, oh my goodness. The thing I’ve been impressed with in their secondary is they do a great job of playing the football. They will play through the receiver’s hands as the ball gets there. You very rarely see a receiver running wide open. They’re not afraid to press. I feel like we’re going to see a significant amount of press coverage. Our guys will have to be prepared for the challenge."
- Luper: "They've got a great d-line. NFL players. They've got a great secondary. NFL players. And they've got really good linebackers. I think the front end and the back end really makes them what they are. And that makes it easy for (Rolando) McClain as well, but really up front they can be dominant. They play the run extremely well, put you in bad situations. But they've got some ball hawks in the back. I think Arenas is the best player on that football team."
- Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, on nose guard Terrence Cody: "It's really tough when you've got a guy that's that physical in the middle of the defense. I think a lot of what they ask of him to do is free up their backers to make plays. As an offensive line coach, you're in a battle between getting movement on a down guy and trying to get double teams on him but at the same time getting up to the linebackers and not letting their linebackers run and make plays. So you've got to do the best you can to scheme up and do a little of both. It's definitely tough when you've got a guy that's that strong, that stout and can really occupy two blocks in the middle of the defense. He's a typical 3-4 nose that a lot of NFL teams are playing with."
- Lolley, who has been around Alabama forever, thinks this rivalry is unparalleled: "A lot of coaches have been through here, whether coordinators through the last 10, 11 years — however long I've been associated here or whatever — and everybody talks about their rivalries everywhere else. I just smile and laugh because there's really no way. You can explain the atmosphere in an SEC game, period, but when you look at it as an SEC game with two teams from the same state that's a great football state — to me, the greatest football state in the country — and there's no pro teams. Everybody's either Alabama or they're Auburn. It's great for college football. There's no atmosphere like it whether you play here in Auburn or you play in Tuscaloosa. There's not another game like it. It's great to be a part of it. You try to explain it to everybody, but they have to play it."
- Luper, a newcomer to the rivalry, summed up the rivalry like this: "I experience it every day, somewhere, in some shape or form. That's the beauty of this rivalry is that it is 365. It's every day of the year. It's not just this week. The Texas-Oklahoma deal is just that week. And Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Bedlam was just that week. But this is year round. It's 24-7-365, so it'll be excited to be out and be a part of it."
- Grimes said Auburn won't be intimidated by Alabama and its 11-0 record. "We're not ever going to talk about anybody intimidating us," he said. "I think just because of the physical nature of their front that happens at times. I think the teams that will step out and take the opposite approach will have a better chance. Obviously nobody's beaten them and nobody's put a lot of yards on them so they're pretty good at what they do so I'm giving them a ton of credit. But we're not going to be intimidated by anybody."