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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Who has the edge: Auburn or Alabama?

I was going to save this for Thursday, but there's not a lot going on today, so I figured I'd put it up now.

Michael Casagrande, Alabama beat writer for the Decatur Daily, helped me out with the Alabama side of things.

No. 2 Auburn at No. 11 Alabama
  • Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
  • When: Friday, 2:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Records: Auburn 11-0, 7-0 SEC; Alabama 9-2, 5-2 SEC
Auburn passing game vs. Alabama secondary
Labeled as only a runner for the first part of the season, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton has emerged as a precision passer of late. He went 12-for-15 for 148 yards and two scores against Georgia. Two of those incompletions were drops. With Darvin Adams (663 yards), Terrell Zachery (476) and Emory Blake (398 yards) as receiving options and the return of tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen (4 TD) as a red zone threat, the Tigers’ passing game is hitting on all cylinders right now. It’s been all or nothing for the Alabama defensive backs this year. They lead the nation with 21 interceptions, but both losses this year were riddled with coverage breakdowns and assignment errors. When playing offenses similar in style to Auburn’s, they’ve played well. But Ole Miss and Mississippi State don’t have the same caliber weapons. Edge: Push.
Auburn running backs vs. Alabama linebackers
Remove Newton from the equation and the Tigers would still have 2,090 rushing yards, which would rank third in the SEC and 28th nationally. Mike Dyer has emerged as an inside runner and Onterio McCalebb the speed threat to the perimeter. Add Newton, the SEC’s leading rusher with 1,297 yards, and Auburn’s SEC-best rushing attack can threaten every part of the field. The Tide linebackers have taken the heat for playing without proper discipline early in the season. The loss of Rolando McClain, Eryk Anders and Cory Reamer forced all kinds of unproven talent into action. Slowly, they’ve improved, and true freshman C.J. Mosley is drawing comparisons to a young McClain. Dont’a Hightower is also rounding back into shape after last season’s catastrophic knee injury. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn’s offensive line vs. Alabama defensive line
The Tigers’ offensive success all starts with the offensive line, which has four seniors who have made 153 combined starts. Left tackle Lee Ziemba headlines the group. He’ll break the school record with his 50th consecutive start today. Alabama has felt some growing pains up front. Offsides penalties have multiplied as sack numbers dropped along. In recent weeks, nose guard Josh Chapman has shown considerable improvement and defensive end Marcell Dareus’ bum ankle has healed up. Alabama boasts the No. 3 rushing defense in the SEC, but South Carolina, LSU and Georgia had similar claims earlier this year that did them no good against the Tigers. Edge: Auburn.
Alabama passing game vs. Auburn secondary
If there is a spot where the Tide can claim the greatest advantage, here it is. Receiver Julio Jones is playing as well as he has in his three years in Tuscaloosa and the Tigers’ secondary hasn’t always performed at the highest level. For proof, see Georgia’s A.J. Green, an equally explosive and an obvious target for extra coverage who still managed 164 yards and nine catches against Auburn last week. Receivers Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks have also shown an ability to take it to the next level when Jones was injured, giving Auburn’s shallow set of cornerbacks plenty of concerns. Quarterback Greg McElroy has 2,390 passing yards and 17 touchdowns, so he’s more than capable of getting his receivers the ball. Edge: Alabama.
Alabama running backs vs. Auburn linebackers
The Crimson Tide backs have something to prove after Auburn’s then-porous rushing defense limited them to 73 yards in last year’s Iron Bowl, holding eventual Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in check. Ingram has 780 yards and 10 touchdowns this year, despite missing time early with a knee injury. Co-No. 1 Trent Richardson (634 yards) will determine a lot since he hasn’t played in two games with a mysterious knee injury. Auburn’s linebackers, meanwhile, have played at a high level. Josh Bynes leads the team with 53 tackles and Craig Stevens has quietly turned in a strong season alternating between the strong- and weak-side. The Tigers are second in the SEC against the run (111.5 ypg). Edge: Push.
Alabama offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line
The graduation of Mike Johnson and Drew Davis from last year’s solid unit were more impactful than first thought. The young group hasn’t been a disaster, but they aren’t nearly as dominant as last season’s line. Holding penalties are suddenly an issue. So are quarterback sacks. With All-SEC right guard Barrett Jones recovering from a sprained ankle, he’ll be limited at best. That’s not what you want to hear going up against defensive line featuring tackle Nick Fairley, who leads the SEC in tackles for a loss (18) and is second in sacks (7.5). The Tigers will be short-handed in the first half, without senior linemen Michael Goggans and Mike Blanc, who were ejected for throwing punches late against Georgia. That might just mean more snaps for Fairley. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn return units vs. Alabama coverage teams
Demond Washington is a threat to take it to the house on every kickoff, as is McCalebb, part of the reason the Tigers rank second in the SEC in kick returns (25.2-yard average). But Auburn’s punt returns have lagged. Since the beginning of October, Quindarius Carr has had only two returns longer than 10 yards. Alabama’s kick coverage unit is much-improved over last year, although it allowed a 97-yard return for a touchdown against Georgia State last week that ruined the shutout. Punter Cody Mandell has shown he can blast footballs over returners’ heads while also shanking a few when backed into his own end zone. Edge: Auburn.
Alabama return units vs. Auburn coverage teams
Alabama ranks third in the SEC in kick returns, but that number is buoyed by Richardson (26.8 avg.), who doesn’t figure to field kickoffs because of a knee injury, leaving it up to Maze and Jones. Maze’s 15.3-yard punt return average is third in the SEC. Auburn has been outstanding on kickoff coverage, ranking third in the conference behind the standout play of freshmen Demetruce McNeal and Craig Sanders. But the Tigers’ punting situation remains dicey. Senior Ryan Shoemaker will start, but he’s been erratic, averaging 39.2 yards per punt this year. Edge: Alabama.
Kickers
It hasn’t been the fiasco it could have been for Alabama, but it hasn’t been without issue. Poor snaps contributed to a few key missed short field goals by Jeremy Shelley, who is 10-for-14 this year. Cade Foster is the long option, having made 5 of his 7 attempts from 40 yards or longer. Wes Byrum has done it all for Auburn, going 15-for-19 this year with a long of 48. He’s made 11 of his last 12. Edge: Auburn.
Coaches
Auburn’s Gene Chizik came close in his first Iron Bowl but couldn’t come away with the victory. Still, he’s pushed all the right buttons with this team this year, helping keep the Newton saga from distracting the team during its quest for a national title. Nick Saban had quite a challenge refocusing a returning national championship team that had several key newcomers. The mental side hasn’t always been there this year and LSU’s Les Miles outfoxed his predecessor Nov. 6 to knock the Tide out of the national championship hunt. Saban has a much longer track record of succeeding in games like these as a head coach. But Chizik hasn’t made a misstep yet this season, and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has his offense humming at a level impressive even for him. Edge: Push.
Prediction
Alabama has won 20 straight at Bryant-Denny Stadium, a streak dating back to a shocking Louisiana-Monroe loss in 2007. But this Alabama squad has showed some cracks in its armor. And Auburn has just the kind of offense that can make a slightly-flawed team look out of sorts. Two weeks was enough time for Malzahn to cook up enough tricks to almost beat a superior Alabama defense with an average quarterback last November. He has the same two weeks this year, is going up against a less-dominant Tide defense and has a dual-threat, Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback running the show. Auburn’s defense will give up some points — it does every week — but the Tigers will score a lot just like they have since centering the offense around Newton’s talents. Add it all up, and Auburn scores more points in a shootout. Prediction: Auburn 35, Alabama 31.

11 comments:

CHEFD said...

17-45 AUBURN! WAR EAGLE!

Jason said...

OMAC will still be running this time next week.

Tar Heel Tiger said...

AB gets a jump on The Edge like Fairley will have on ua-t's O-line

Tar Heel Tiger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'm GLAD there's not much going on today. No news = Good news

Tar Heel Tiger said...

I think AB may have hit the score right on the money.

Finally, I actually have a real word for "word verification"

Jason - that's a wonderful AU family. I hope they are ALL IN!!!

GO TIGERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

72mc said...

Thanks for this as usual AB. Really appreciate your insight and unbiased candor!
War Eagle!!!

CHB said...

Good stuff Andy as always.

I would like to point out that while Green went off in the 1st half, he was very limited in the 2nd half. I think with the bammers deficiencies on the OL that we will get tons of pressure on the QB and that will free up the rest of the D to be able to employee the same defense on Julio that they did in the 2nd half of the GA game.

RW said...

You're being polite to Bama's run game because of last year's results methinks. I think Fast and Furious are playing hurt right now.

MikeP said...

Nice breakout! I'll concede that Bammer's punt return unit has the edge over our punting unit. Thing is, we don't punt much.

Somebody almost stole my pick:
Auburn 42
UAT 17

Anonymous said...

AB,
Really appreciate your reporting, and your not-a-homer style. It makes me insane when people can't be objective even with their favorite team. . .
Funny note though, Auburn is 9-2 this year against the AB spread. Hopefully that will hold again today! War Eagle!