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2010 Iron Bowl Preview: Auburn at Alabama on Black Friday

Here’s a preview of the 75th Iron Bowl between #2 Auburn (11-0, SEC 7-0) and #11 Alabama (9-2, 5-2 SEC) at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Saturday, November 27, 2010.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30pm CT, and will be televised by CBS.

Below, I give my analysis of each phase of the game, key match-ups, what to expect and a score prediction.

Phase 1: Alabama Offense vs. Auburn Defense
Key Match-ups:
Alabama C William Vlachos & OGs vs. Auburn DT Nick Fairley
Alabama QB Greg McElroy vs. Auburn LB Josh Bynes
Alabama WR Julio Jones vs. Auburn CB Neiko Thorpe

The Crimson Tide offense has been criticized at times this year and rightfully so. I’ve done so and still have my reservations that we will see a performance that matches the talent on this offense. Alabama’s offensive line hasn’t been the dominant force of the last two years. That and the inability to play to the team’s strengths have hurt Alabama in big games.

I expect Alabama to run the ball early and often and play ball-control offense to limit possessions for Cam Newton and the offense.

Auburn’s two DL suspensions for the first half shouldn’t be a huge factor because there won’t be enough time to wear down a thinner line rotation. C William Vlachos has to be better against NT Nick Fairley than he was against NT Drake Nevis of LSU. A healthy or available Barrett Jones would be big at LG. Chance Warmack has to be sound at RG as well. The assignments are the biggest thing for Alabama’s offensive line. If they clean that up and QB Greg McElroy gets rid of the football, then the Tide can make some plays.

Alabama has to throw deep and throw it up to Julio Jones to let him make plays on a susceptible Auburn secondary. I expect RB Trent Richardson to be healthy, physical and effective.

OC Jim McElwain, QB Greg McElroy and C William Vlachos may be the most critical figures for Alabama to win this game. McElroy has to be aware of where Josh Bynes is at all times because he is very good in pass coverage and has excellent ball skills to cover ground and intercept passes underneath receivers.

Phase 2: Auburn Offense vs. Alabama Defense
Key Match-ups:
Auburn QB Cam Newton vs. Alabama S Mark Barron
Auburn C Ryan Pugh vs. Alabama DT Josh Chapman & Reserve DTs
Auburn LT Lee Ziemba vs. Alabama DE Marcell Dareus

Hit Cam. That’s not a camera on a hitter in baseball, it’s the necessary plan to slow down QB Cam Newton and try to punish him. Hit Cam.

CBS’ Gary Danielson pointed this out a few weeks ago. When Newton hesitates at the line of scrimmage and almost comes to a stop, why don’t teams attach him and hit him? It’s a great point. Yes, Auburn offensive line has something to do with that in holding blocks long enough for Cam to get loose. But, I still think teams are passive defending him because they don’t want to get juked by a quarterback. I think Alabama will be very physical and aggressive in playing their gap control.

If Auburn can run the ball with their running backs, that will make things really tough for Alabama.

The Tide secondary continues to improve. If they can eliminate the big plays in the passing game, Alabama will have a shot at staying out of a track meet with Auburn. Alabama may play simple coverages on the perimeter to allow SS Mark Barron to be the every down spy on Cam Newton. Barron won’t always look like the spy but, similar to Rashad Johnson a few years ago, he will come out of nowhere to fill that role late pre-snap.

Auburn isn’t quite as effective when it doesn’t play with a fast pace. Down, distance, field position and score often determines that. Auburn will make some plays but I don’t expect them to just go up and down the field on the Tide defense in Tuscaloosa.

Phase 3: Special Teams
Both teams have had inconsistent and at times shaky punting. Auburn doesn’t have full use of its extensive offensive playbook when it’s pinned deep in its own territory. That doesn’t happen to them much. Field position can really help Alabama in this game. Both teams have good return games and solid place-kicking.

Overall Analysis
I 100% admit I have see-sawed in viewing this game. All season I felt that when this week arrived Alabama would beat Auburn. Since Alabama’s LSU loss, I felt that Alabama wouldn’t be able to stop Cam Newton or keep-up with the Tigers offensively. Now this week, after taking a step back, I’m back to my gut feeling, and that’s an Alabama win. That's not an alleged homer-pick, that's an unbiased feeling of who will win.

There are numerous factors at play here. The biggest factor is that I believe Alabama will play with the energy, intensity, focus and motivation that, at times, hasn’t been at peak levels this season. If Alabama is clicking on all cylinders and doesn’t break down in those few key plays that turn a ballgame around, it will win.

Alabama is more talented than Auburn, top-to-bottom. Yes, the best player in college football will be in white, but with the intimidating atmosphere inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, I don’t think you’ll see the same Auburn that has fed off of its electric crowd all season. Alabama wins.

Score Prediction
Alabama 27 Auburn 24

Check back after the game for a complete recap of the game with observations and immediate analysis of the game, along with game notes.

Please share this post on message boards, Twitter, Facebook, email, etc. You can follow me on Twitter @VinceSports.

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