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NCAA Football Auburn Tigers

Auburn Tigers: 5 Keys to Victory In Iron Bowl

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Auburn's 5 Keys to Beating Alabama

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

What's an improbable situation? When No. 1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0) and No. 4 Auburn (10-1, 6-1) square off in the most important Iron Bowl in history, the Tigers will have an opportunity to do something that no one outside the Auburn athletics complex thought was possible coming into the season – win the SEC West.

In fact, the game is a defacto SEC West championship, as the winner will go to the conference title game in Atlanta to face either No. 5 Missouri or No. 10 South Carolina. The Tigers have been the biggest surprise in college football this year, but winning this final game against the arch-rival Crimson Tide will be a taller task than any of Auburn’s previous 10 wins.

Here’s how the two match up across the board, including where each team ranks among SEC teams in each category:

Scoring offense: Alabama (39.7, T-2nd), Auburn (39.0, 4th)

Total offense: Auburn (499.9, 2nd), Alabama (444.7, 8th)

Rushing offense: Auburn (320.3, 1st), Alabama (211.5, 3rd)

Passing offense: Alabama (233.3, 8th), Auburn (179.6, 11th)

First downs: Alabama (5th), Auburn (6th)

Red zone offense: Auburn (1st), Alabama (T-5th)

Scoring defense: Alabama (9.3, 1st), Auburn (22.0, 5th)

Total defense: Alabama (263.9, 1st), Auburn 406.9, 10th)

Rushing defense: Alabama (91.3, 1st), Auburn (152.1, 8th)

Passing defense: Alabama (172.6, 2nd), Auburn (254.8, 13th)

Opponent first downs: Alabama (1st), Auburn (9th)

Red zone defense: Alabama (1st), Auburn (2nd)

As you can see, the tale of the tape is pretty close between the Tide and Tigers. The question: What does Auburn need to do to pull an upset? Here are five keys to victory for the Tigers.

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5. Get to the Fourth Quarter

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn has shown a remarkable ability to win close games. The Tigers are 5-0 in games this season decided by 10 points or less, a resume that includes come-from-behind wins late in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Georgia. On the other hand, Alabama has won all but two of its games by three touchdowns or more. Auburn has to like its chances in a one-possession game in Jordan-Hare Stadium. They’ve been through the fire multiple times and have proven time and again they can rise to the challenge. It's not to say that the Crimson Tide can’t, but they just haven’t had to.

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4. Complete the Routine Throws

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn has been great at throwing the ball down the field, and there is the potential for big plays to be made against Alabama’s secondary. But, Nick Marshall has struggled to consistently complete the short and intermediate throws needed to keep the chains moving. The Tigers won’t overwhelm this Alabama defense with a one-dimensional attack, and the Auburn offense likely won’t do much if Marshall can’t hit those routine throws. On the other hand, if he shows he can consistently find open receivers, it will open things up for the Tigers’ dynamic rushing attack. The bottom line is they have to be balanced to have success against the Crimson Tide defense.

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3. Listen to Steve Perry

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers would be wise to keep in mind one of the Journey front man’s iconic phrases: “Don’t Stop Believin'.” Auburn has gotten down early in the last two Iron Bowls and never regained its footing. Nothing hurts a team's chances of success more than doubt. If Alabama blasts out of the gate with a couple of quick scores and silences the home crowd, it will be interesting to see if the Tigers regroup and claw their way back into the game, or fold and get blown out for a third straight year.

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2. Get Pressure on A.J. McCarron

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers are probably only second to Missouri in their ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks, having two great ends in Dee Ford and Carl Lawson. Auburn has 24 sacks on the year, good for fourth-best in the SEC. Georgia exposed some holes in the back end of the Tigers' defense, and there’s no doubt an experienced QB like McCarron will take advantage of everything Auburn gives him. The only way to reduce his effectiveness is to put him on the ground a lot, but it won’t be easy. The Crimson Tide offensive line is one of the best around, allowing just nine sacks all year. McCarron has gotten very comfortable behind this group, but we all saw what happened when Virginia Tech and Mississippi State got after him. If Auburn can do the same, the Bama offense won’t be nearly as effective.

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1. Attack the Entire Field

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama’s defense is built to withstand the brutality of life between the tackles that is the reality of taking on tough, pro-style offenses such as LSU’s. The Crimson Tide is very good at defending against those teams. But, Alabama is most vulnerable against offenses that spread out and attack the entire field. Athletic QBs, which Auburn has, have been an Achilles heel for Crimson Tide defenses for years. That all plays right into the strength of Gus Malzahn’s offense. The Tigers use multiple formations, lots of motion and misdirection, and are a threat to attack any area of the field on any down. If there’s one weakness on Alabama’s defense that Auburn can exploit, it’s the size of the Tide’s linebackers. Other than C.J. Mosley, it’s a group of big, bruising LBs. They aren’t the type of guys that are great in space. They’re built to play in the box, and the Tigers should take advantage of that.

Related: Alabama Crimson Tide’s 5 Keys to Victory