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The stage is set for Auburn and the Iron Bowl
Nov. 29, 2014

Cameron Artis-Payne has rushed to the top of the SEC rushing charts

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala.  Auburn wouldn't mind a flashback Iron Bowl, you know, like all the way back to last year, when the Tigers looked at the stats, the rankings, the circumstances and didn't blink. Didn't blink? Auburn beat Alabama 34-28 on the last play of the game.

Guess what? The stats, the rankings, the circumstances heading into Saturday's 6:45 p.m. game in Tuscaloosa are no so unlike last year's game in Auburn. The Tigers are hoping for the same results.

Auburn has the best running game in the SEC, just like last year. Alabama has the best defense, like in 2013. Alabama is favored, like last year. Auburn showed that sometimes doesn't mean a lot.

Alabama is ranked No. 1, like last year. Auburn wants to knock the Tide off again.

Auburn wouldn't mind this year's game playing out like last year's game, when Auburn's running game rushed past Alabama and the Tigers staged a comeback to win on the last play of the game. Alabama is 11-1 this time. Auburn is 8-3.

"We went through some tough times, but this is the Iron Bowl," said Auburn coach Gus Malzhan. "We've got a lot of character on this team and I expect our guys to be ready to play and I know they’re excited to play."

Chances are, returning a missed field goal 109 yards for the winning TD won't be a factor Saturday. But Auburn's desire to run against Alabama likely will be. 

Auburn leads the SEC in rushing, averaging 266 yards per game. Alabama is tops in rushing defense, allowing 85.3 yard per game. But Alabama was allowing only 91.3 rushing yards per game last year before Auburn rang up 296 yards on 52 determined carries.

Last year, Auburn had SEC rushing leader Tre Mason. This year, the Tigers have SEC rushing leader Cameron Artis-Payne.

Alabama's front seven will be a formable challenge again.

"That’s definitely a factor," Malzahn said. "It looks like they are playing a few more guys than they did last year, too. They do a good job of keeping those guys fresh, so that will be a challenge. But to be able to beat a team like this, you’re going to have to be able to run the football. You’ve got to make some plays in the passing game, but you’ve got to be able to run the football. We were able to do that last year, and we need to do the same thing this year."

"They," said Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, "want to take away the run and try to make you one dimensional. That's kind of their philosophy and that's something they've done a good job of."

As promised, Auburn is passing more this season, and the Tigers could receive a boost if receiver Duke Williams can make a successful comeback after missing the last two games with a knee injury. He'll be paired with Sammie Coates, last year's leading receiver who has been slowed this year with a knee issue of his own. He's made steady progress toward full strength. 

But Alabama has a receiver of its own in Amari Cooper, who was taken out of the last game as a precaution after he banged his knee, but otherwise has 90 catches on the year.
What to do?

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said the Tigers will double-team Cooper.

"We’ll do it some, absolutely," Johnson said. "Of course, there are a lot of different ways you do it." 

And not do it.
"He’s a great player, but the problem is they’ve got a lot of great players," Johnson said. "You start focusing on him all night long…"  Well.. "I don’t even know if he’s the fastest receiver they’ve got. They’ve got some burners."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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