TIDE, TAKE THREE
Three tidbits regarding top-ranked Alabama heading into Saturday's game at No. 4 Auburn:
• 1. The No. 4 Tigers are the highest-ranked foe a No. 1 Alabama ever has faced in a regular season. The previous high was No. 5 LSU last year.
• 2. Alabama and Auburn will have combined after this weekend for 13 of the first 22 SEC West titles, but this is the first winner-take-all Iron Bowl for division supremacy.
• 3. The Crimson Tide are seeking their third consecutive win at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which would be a first. Auburn won four straight at Bryant-Denny from 2000 to '06.
TALE OF THE OFFENSIVE TAPE
Alabama - Auburn
Points per game: 39.7 - 39.0
Yards per game: 444.7 - 499.9
Rushing yards: 211.5 - 320.3
Passing yards: 233.3 - 179.6
Yards per play: 7.0 - 7.0
When Auburn quarterback Cam Newton passed to tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen for a 7-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of the 2010 Iron Bowl, it capped a 24-point comeback for the Tigers in a 28-27 victory.
That also was the last touchdown Auburn's offense has scored against Alabama's defense.
Auburn has averaged an anemic eight first downs and 151.5 total yards in the last two Iron Bowls, but first-year Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn has his team averaging 499.9 yards a game heading into Saturday's showdown at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Malzahn was Auburn's offensive coordinator when the Tigers rallied in 2010 and faltered in 2011.
"Their offense is one of the leading offensive teams in the country," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday at his weekly news conference. "Gus has always done a fantastic job with the offense. They have the ability to run the ball effectively and throw it when they need to, and they've been able to score points on a pretty consistent basis against just about everybody in this league."
The Tigers averaged 148.4 rushing yards a game last season but this year have pounded out 320.3 per contest, placing them with Army (330.6) and Navy (320.1) as the top rushing teams nationally.
Saturday will provide yet another example of how two vastly different attacks can succeed in college football. Auburn seeks to wear down defenses by using a rapid tempo and by spreading the field, while Alabama continues to employ its successful line-up-and-try-to-stop-us method.
"They're going to do what they do," Malzahn told reporters Sunday. "We're going to do what we do, and we'll see what happens."
Junior tailback Tre Mason leads Auburn with 1,153 yards and averages 5.5 yards a carry, while junior quarterback Nick Marshall is within reach of a 1,000-yard season as well. The former Georgia cornerback and junior college transfer has rushed for 823 yards and 6.7 a carry, inflicting most of his damage on the perimeter.
Outside speed threat Corey Grant has rushed for 557 yards and 9.9 per carry, so it will be a difficult yet different challenge for Alabama's cornerbacks, who already have vied with the receiving talents of Texas A&M's Mike Evans and LSU's tandem of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry.
"The one thing you have to do when you play Auburn is that everybody on the perimeter has to tackle well," Saban said. "You have to play blockers well, and their receivers do a really good job of blocking. You've got to be able to play cut blocks, and you've got to be able to play physical on the edges. Everybody in our secondary is going to have to do something when it comes to run support."
Said Tide safety Landon Collins: "It can be confusing, because they have a lot of play-action and a lot of other things they can do."
Saban said Marshall is playing his best football of the season and is "as effective as anyone we've played." The Crimson Tide failed to contain Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, corralled LSU's Zach Mettenberger in the second half and pretty much have had their way with every other quarterback this season.
Alabama senior AJ McCarron is a Maxwell Award finalist and the winningest quarterback in program history with his 36-2 record. The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award finalist will be making his third Iron Bowl start, having led the Tide to 91 points in his first two.
"With our thought process on offense, it doesn't matter who we're playing," McCarron told reporters Monday. "We think we can beat anybody. When we do get stopped, we feel like we stopped ourselves.
"As long as we play ahead of the sticks and don't have a lot of third-and-long situations, we'll be able to have sustained drives."
Alabama leads the Iron Bowl rivalry 42-34-1 but is 14-17 since Bear Bryant's final season in 1982. ... Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley is a finalist for the Bednarik and Butkus awards. ... Saban held Arie Kouandjio (sprained ankle) out of Monday's practice but seemed confident the left guard would return today.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...