2014 Iron Bowl: #15 Auburn at #1 Alabama Preview and Predictions

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Nov 15, 2014; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Austin Shepherd (79) celebrates with Alabama Crimson Tide running back T.J. Yeldon (4) after Yeldon scored a touchdown against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama’s Keys to Victory

1. Look for O.J. Howard. For Auburn, the task seems to be covering explosive wide receivers like Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones. However, the most likely guy to burn Auburn’s defense isn’t a true wide receiver at all. Auburn’s defense has struggled against tight ends in recent years. The most recent example is when Auburn went to Ole Miss. The Rebels’ leading receiver was tight end Evan Engram, who caught 8 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. O.J. Howard is among the best tight ends in college football and has extremely reliable hands. Is Auburn going to use a linebacker to cover him, or someone from the star position? Regardless, Alabama has to know that O.J. Howard presents a favorable matchup.

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2. The front seven must be a fortress. Last year, Alabama was gashed by Auburn’s running game. It wasn’t that the Tigers were using trick plays and outside runs. Auburn simply lined up and forced the ball down Alabama’s throats. This year, the Tigers’ rushing attack might not be quite as deadly as it was last year, but that has more to do with how great Auburn’s ground game was last year. Auburn still presents an elite rushing threat, and they love to feed Cameron Artis-Payne up the middle. Artis-Payne gets most of his yardage between the tackles. I’m pretty sure the Tide remember the 296 yards they allowed on the ground last year; now it’s time to see if they’ve corrected their issues in the past year.

3. Capitalize in Auburn territory. This was a real problem for Alabama last year, obviously. The Tide had eight drives where they took a snap inside the Auburn 40-yard line, and they only scored 21 points on those drives, along with four missed field goals and a turnover on 4th-and-1. The Crimson Tide’s field goal capabilities are still underwhelming, so they need to capitalize when they have the chance. Auburn’s bend-but-don’t-break approach from last year hasn’t been quite as helpful this year, but Alabama still has to be smart when they get scoring opportunities.

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