With the annual showdown with Auburn now just a few days away, much is at stake for the Crimson Tide in the matchup. Win and go on to face Georgia for a play-in game to another BCS National Championship berth. Lose and go to the Capital One bowl.
Here are nine keys to Alabama winning this game:
1. Control Jake Holland. Don’t let the dynamic Auburn middle linebacker control the defensive tempo of the game with his better than average quickness and lateral speed. Don’t let his poor tackling and slow reactions fool you. This guy is a player who, if you’re standing still, can put you on the turf in a relative hurry. If you don’t know where Jake Holland is at all times, there’s somewhat of a chance he could possibly disrupt a slow developing play.
2. Take the Auburn crowd out of the game early. 1,000 fans may not seem like much, but they can really make a racket if Bama doesn’t take control of this game from the get-go. Consequently, that number includes the Tiger band and football team, but still, that’s a lot of people screaming all at once. Gotta take them out.
3. Beat Onterio McCalleb to the sidelines. That sucker is fast, and he runs out of bounds to avoid having to play contact football better than anyone in the game. If the ‘Bama defense isn’t careful he’ll cross the boundry 20-30 times on Saturday.
4. Contain Jonathan Wallace. Auburn’s third attempt at a starting quarterback this season has meant turning to a true freshman from Phenix City, Alabama. This time a year ago Wallace was getting ready to lose to Prattville 45-12 in the Alabama state high school seminfinals…a year later, he’s facing a Nick Saban defense. But don’t get too confident Tide fans: Scout’s 69th overall quarterback on last year’s prospect list has looked remarkable against New Mexico State and Alabama A&M. If the Bama defense doesn’t do its job, Tide fans will wish Wallace had gone to one of the other two schools that offered him, Central Florida and Southern Miss.
5. Make sure Ben Howell brings his game. Once Eddie Lacy, TJ Yeldon, Ken’yon Drake and Brent Calloway get their touches, it’ll be up to the Tide’s cracker fifth string runningback to protect the football and seal the deal. Playing fundamental football and protecting the rock will be a must against an Auburn defense that has proven it can tackle on occasion.
6. Score touchdowns. Auburn’s stingy defense is giving up 26 points a game. But when you take away the Clemson, Mississippi State, Lousiana-Monroe, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Georgia games, that number falls to 11 points a game. Simply put, Alabama has to get touchdowns and not field goals in this game. Otherwise, except for in the Clemson, Mississippi State, LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Georgia games, this Scott Loeffler offense has proven it can put up points.
7. Find an answer for Jay Prosch. All we heard in the preseason was how dominant this power fullback was going to be in this offensive system, and the pundits were right. His 2012 numbers speak for themselves: 9 carries, 31 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a touchdown every 4.5 carries! One word of advice, Kirby Smart: Know where #35 is when he’s in the game.
8. Focus on the game. If you’re Nick Saban, now is not the time to worry about your job security. Block out all external factors and just focus on the match-up. Everything else takes care of itself.
9. Tackle Tre Mason. The Auburn runner doesn’t have 920 yards in eleven games on 150 carries for no reason. And he has earned every one of those stats late in games against third team defenses when the Tigers have trailed by multiple touchdowns. Simply put, when Auburn calls a play where they give it to Tre Mason, you have to tackle him.
Bottom line, Bama is not going to just walk into Bryant-Denny Stadium in front of a ravenous capacity crowd and just walk out with a win. They’re going to have to earn it against a pesky Auburn team that came close to winning at least two conference games this season.
As fans, if you’re going to the game, you need to enter this game confident, but cautious. Do your part and be loud. But if the Tide doesn’t do what it has to do, shoring up these nine areas of concern, Bama could be in for a long afternoon.