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November 25, 2013

Four Downs: Alabama va. Auburn

The Iron Bowl looms, and with it comes key questions that must be answered for the top-ranked, two-time defending national champion University of Alabama football team:

1. Can this game possibly live up to the hype?
If Alabama wins, it advances to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game with hopes of a third straight national title still intact. If Auburn wins, it goes to Atlanta with a chance to win the SEC and an outside chance of playing for the national championship. By the weekend this matchup will have undergone more scrutiny than any previous Iron Bowl. It may be impossible for the game to match expectations.

2. Will Alabama be able to make Auburn pass?
Auburn averages 320 yards per game on the ground and less than 180 through the air. The Tigers average 21 pass attempts and 55 rushes per game, and have thrown 20 or less times in six games. Alabama is giving up 91.3 rushing yards per game. The Crimson Tide will want to force Nick Marshall to pass and keep Auburn out of its offensive comfort zone.

3. Does Auburn have another miracle in it?
The Tigers pulled out an unlikely victory over Georgia when a tipped fourth-and-18 pass turned into a 73-yard touchdown to win the game. Auburn's resume includes close wins over Texas A&M, Washington State and Mississippi State, although none of those games had the highlight-reel finish of the Georgia game. If the Tigers keep it close, they have reason to believe they can pull out a victory.

4. Is Auburn's secondary good enough to contain AJ McCarron?
Auburn has given up more than 340 passing yards four times this season, with Georgia and Texas A&M both topping the 400-yard plateau. McCarron, Alabama's senior quarterback, is more efficient than prolific, completing more than 68 percent of his passes for 218 yards per game with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions. He is adept at exploiting soft spots in opposing pass coverage, and this is where Auburn looks most vulnerable.

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