College breakdown: No. 1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0 SEC) at No. 4 Auburn (10-1, 6-1)
by Mark Edwards
medwards@annistonstar.com
Nov 29, 2013 | 2033 views |  0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When: 2:30 p.m., today

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn.

Line: Alabama by 10.5.

TV: CBS

Radio: Alabama: 95.5 FM; Auburn: 1070 AM, 100.5 FM.

Four-down territory

1. Punt, Bama, punt:
If the Crimson Tide needs to punt on fourth down, it is in good shape with senior four-year starter Cody Mandell. Alabama leads the nation in net punting, which is punting average minus opponents’ return average. Mandell averages more than 47 yards a kick, but he doesn’t have enough attempts to qualify for the national statistics. He has attempted only 33 punts and would need 40 to qualify. It’s worth noting, however, Auburn’s Chris Davis leads the nation in punt returns, averaging 22.5 yards a return.

2. Strength vs. strength: Auburn ranks second nationally in rushing offense, while the Crimson Tide is fourth against the run. In addition, Alabama is first in scoring defense. The Tide led the nation in rush defense in 2011 and 2012 and ranked second in 2008 and 2009. Alabama has allowed five rushing touchdowns this season. Auburn’s Tre Mason, however, has scored 17 himself this season, which leads the Southeastern Conference.

3. Home-field advantage: It hasn’t meant much in recent years in this series. The Tigers have won five of the last seven Iron Bowl games played in Bryant-Denny Stadium, while Alabama has won four of the last seven played in Jordan-Hare. Maybe a more accurate measure is the betting-line favorite, which has won nine of the last 10 Iron Bowl games. The 2010 game (an Auburn win) is the only exception.

4. Top-five matchup: This is the second time the two teams have entered the Iron Bowl ranked in the top five nationally. In 1971, No. 3 Alabama beat No. 5 Auburn 31-7. Auburn is 3-3-1 all-time in top-five matchups. Alabama is 10-8 in top-five games.

Key matchups

Alabama pass protection vs. Auburn pass rush:
Remember 2005? Auburn dropped then-Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle 11 times, which inspired those “Honk if you sacked Brodie” bumper stickers. Those sacks made the difference in Auburn’s win that year, and the battle to get to the Tide’s passer could have a large influence this year, as well. Alabama has a fairly stationary quarterback in AJ McCarron, and it’s paramount the Tide give him protection similar to how it has done lately. Alabama has allowed only two sacks in the past seven games. Auburn ranks fourth in the SEC with 24 sacks this year, but the Tigers have been better recently, getting at least one sack in the past eight games.

Prediction

If Alabama can keep McCarron upright, he has proven he can beat top-five teams. He did it two years ago against LSU. He did it last year against Georgia and Notre Dame. And now he will have a chance to do it against an Auburn team ranked fourth in the most recent Associated Press poll. ... Alabama 24, Auburn 23.
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