- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: We’re taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn.
2013 overall record: 12-2
2013 SEC record: 7-1, first in the Western Division
Record all time against Alabama: 35-42-1
Last meeting: Won 34-28 in 2013
Offense: 8; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 0
RB Tre Mason, OL Greg Robinson, DB Chris Davis, DL Dee Ford
2013 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Tre Mason (1,816 yards)
Passing: Nick Marshall* (1,976, 14 TD, 6 INT)
Receiving: Sammie Coates* (902 yards)
Tackles: Cassanova McKinzy* (75)
Sacks: Dee Ford (10.5)
Interceptions: Robenson Therezie (4)
What they're saying:
“Up until last Friday, Nick [Marshall] has been a model student, teammate, and citizen. Nick made a mistake and he'll have to deal with the consequences. I'm not ready to say what those consequences are at this time, but he will deal with it. I know he's regretful and he feels very bad about it,” said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
Three things to watch:
1. Marshall isn’t the only story: Lost in the aftermath of Nick Marshall’s arrest and absence from SEC media days was the fact that his ordeal wasn’t the biggest news to come out of Hoover, Alabama, last week. Instead, it was Gus Malzahn telling reporters that defensive end Carl Lawson had ACL surgery and is working to come back "toward the end of this year." Lawson is a huge loss. With a so-so secondary, the pass rush was going to be vital for Auburn. Losing Dee Ford hurt, but Lawson was a worthy replacement. Now it’s up to LaDarius Owens and Elijah Daniel. If those two can’t get to the quarterback, the back end of the defense could be exposed.
2. But Marshall’s improvement is key: Marshall took off like a rocket last season, improving his passing numbers each week. But for Auburn’s offense to take the next step and become more balanced, he’ll have to take his game to the next level, specifically his work in the pocket. There’s no doubt Marshall can run the football and execute the read option. The real question is what happens when all the running lanes are clogged and he has to go through his second, third or fourth read in the passing game. Can he sit in the pocket and diagnose a defense? Can he improve his accuracy and get the ball to the open receiver? His Hail Mary pass against Georgia was spectacular, but it was a mistake throwing to Ricardo Louis. He was triple-covered while Sammie Coates was wide open in the middle of the field. Sure, it worked out, but is it really better to be lucky than good? For Marshall to be great, he’ll need to make better decisions in 2014.
3. A tougher road: Auburn didn’t breeze through the regular season to reach the SEC Championship Game last season. Going on the road at LSU and Texas A&M was a lot to handle. But if you think 2013 was hard, wait for what’s ahead. If you’re comparing Auburn’s schedule to Alabama’s (and of course you are), there’s really no comparison. Where Alabama has a flaky nonconference slate (West Virginia, Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss, Western Carolina) and a pair of so-so crossover games (Florida, Tennessee), Auburn has a much tougher road to hoe with a Georgia and South Carolina from the East and a primetime matchup at Kansas State in mid-September. If the Iron Bowl is going to be another battle of top-5 teams, it’s going to be much more difficult for Auburn to reach the game unscathed than it is for Alabama.