Tiger ‘D’ must ground Tide air attack

By Matt McDonough  |   Thursday, November 16, 2006  |  Comments( 0 )

Auburn Tigers
Got something to say?

Sign Up and be the first to comment on this article!

The typical Iron Bowl has featured plenty of between-the-hashmarks, smash-mouth football.

In part, this is a testament to the traditions that both Auburn and Alabama have built with their ground attacks. The Tigers have featured an unmatched string of running backs, while the Crimson Tide have rode their running game since the days of Bear Bryant, and continued to do so in the early days of the Mike Shula era.

But in this Saturday's version of the epic rivalry, the question of whether Tommy Tuberville's mastery of the Tide will continue, or whether Shula will break the Auburn hex and get his first win as a coach in the series, will likely turn on whether the Auburn defense can contain the Alabama passing game.

Yes, you heard me right: the key for Auburn isn't going to be stopping the Tide air attack - because the Tigers can't; Alabama has thrown the ball successfully against almost everyone on its schedule. Rather, the big question for Auburn is whether it can keep John Parker Wilson and Co. from racking up big numbers, or if the team's pass defense will blow up as it did in last week's blowout loss to Georgia.

Wilson has thrown for 2,287 yards this fall, the fourth-best total in Alabama single-season history. The sophomore signal caller has a stud at receiver in D.J. Hall and a dependable second option in Keith Brown, who is questionable for Saturday's game. In Brown's absence last week against LSU, sophomore Will Oakley stepped up with four catches for 51 yards.

About the only thing preventing Wilson from making a push at First Team All-SEC and, more importantly, the Tide from having a much more successful season, have been critical mistakes at the wrong time - such as the two turnovers Wilson committed near the LSU red zone that hindered Bama's upset bid.

So it stands to reason that Alabama will be able to throw for decent yardage against the Auburn defense, which has been far from dominating this season. For Auburn, this is fine. After all, Alabama has repeatedly shown that it is incapable of finishing drives and prone to turning the ball over.

But what the Tigers absolutely can't have is a repeat of last week against Georgia, in which their feeble pass rush and shaky secondary combined to make a struggling offense and green quarterback resemble the old fun 'n gun.

Auburn was unable to get near Bulldog quarterback Matthew Stafford, and after being beaten deep twice in the second quarter, starting cornerback Jonathan Wilhite was yanked in favor of Pat Lee. Strong safety was a concern coming into the game due to starter Eric Brock's unavailability, and the play of replacement Lorenzo Ferguson did not inspire confidence.

"We need to see if we can play someone who can play better, (Ferguson) didn't help us or hurt us," said Tuberville.

Help is indeed on the way, as Brock is expected to return, and it is hard to forget the way Auburn's defensive line ran through and around the Bama O-line on the way to 11 sacks of Brodie Croyle in last year's 28-18 win.

Nonetheless, Alabama does have its advantages in this game, and none seems more evident than when the Tide have the ball and are putting it in the air. If ever there was a time for Shula to open things up, it is now. And his quarterback, who summed up the feelings of his teammates this week, appears ready to break out.

"We feel like we're a lot better than 6-5," said Wilson. "But now we need to go out and prove it."
Got something to say?

Sign Up and be the first to comment on this article! (0)

Article Tools Share!   |  RSS  |  Bleacher Report About Bleacher Report