Editor’s Note: Each week, the Crimson Tide Extra blog has five questions with the beat writer of Alabama’s opponents. This week, we’ll tackle one question each day with Auburn beat writer Ryan Black (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer) and Alabama beat writer Marq Burnett. It will run through Saturday, when each will give their prediction on this year’s Iron Bowl.
Marq Burnett: Everyone knows who the stars are in this matchup. Who is one offensive and one defensive player for Auburn that could make a huge impact in this game?
Ryan Black: It appears you've boxed me into a bit of a corner on this question, Marq, but I'll try to fight my way out. My take: The players that will make, as you called it, "a huge impact" Saturday are the players pretty much everyone knows about. You know, the "usual suspects" like Nick Marshall, Tre Mason and Dee Ford. But I'll provide a pair of players who might be able to make a difference for the Tigers, even if their contributions aren't nearly as consistent as the others I've already named.
Offensively, freshman receiver Marcus Davis hasn't put up crazy numbers this season; he has only 191 yards and a touchdown on 22 catches, after all. However, he has shown a knack for stepping up in big moments. Just go back and watch the game-winning drives against Mississippi State and Texas A&M this season, and you'll see that Davis plays a prominent role on both possessions. Something tells me if the Tigers are in need of a game-winning drive Saturday, Marshall won't hesitate to look to his first-year pass-catcher once more.
On defense, I'll go with Jonathon Mincy. It's easy to get overlooked in Auburn's secondary, what with fellow starting corner Chris Davis leading the team in tackles with 55 (and making spectacular plays on special teams, too) and "Star" Robenson Therezie tops among the Tigers in pickoffs this year with four. And what's more, he didn't have a tackle in his last outing, against his home-state Georgia Bulldogs. He'll make sure that doesn't happen two games in a row come Saturday, and don't be surprised if he's able to cause a turnover in some fashion, be it a forced fumble or an interception.
Black: The marquee players for both teams are well-established by now. But if an "unknown," relatively speaking, ends up being the difference in this game, which players do you believe that would be for the Crimson Tide? Name one offensive player and one defender, as well as your short reasoning why Saturday could be a "breakout" performance for each.
Burnett: While he's not completely unknown, on offense, I have to go with true freshman tight end O.J. Howard. Howard is a matchup nightmare. He's listed at 6-foot-6, 237-pounds and has blazing speed. Against LSU, he caught a short crossing route from quarterback AJ McCarron, turned upfield and outran every LSU defensive back for a 52-yard touchdown. Alabama hasn't had a player that created some many matchup problems at the tight end position during Nick Saban's tenure. Howard is truly a game-changer.
Defensively, I can't go with one player. Alabama's entire defensive line is relative unknown as guys like C.J. Mosley, HaHa Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins receive all the headlines. But the defensive line will be key.
If the line is able to get push upfront, it will allow Alabama's linebackers to make plays. Alabama's entire defense is built around controlling the line of scrimmage and that will be of the utmost importance against Auburn.