Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Alabama Crimson Tide [Print without images]

Thursday, July 25, 2013
Tide schedule preview: Auburn

By Alex Scarborough

Editor's note: The season is nearly upon us and TideNation is taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular season opponents. Every Tuesday and Thursday we'll go through each week of the Crimson Tide's schedule, starting with the season-opener against Virginia Tech and closing with the finale against Auburn.

The rundown
2012 overall record: 3-9
2012 SEC record: 0-8, last in the SEC West
Record all time against Alabama: 34-42-1
Last meeting: Alabama 49, Auburn 0 in 2012

Starters returning
Offense: 9; Defense: 9; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
DT Angelo Blackson, CB Chris Davis, C Reese Dismukes, DE Dee Ford, RB Tre Mason, S Demetruce McNeal

Key losses
LB Daren Bates, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, DE Corey Lemonier, RB Onterio McCalebb

Tre Mason, Shawn Williams
Auburn needs to feed running backs such as Tre Mason more if it hopes to be more successful in 2013.
2012 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Tre Mason* (1,002 yards)
Passing: Kiehl Frazier* (753 yards)
Receiving: Emory Blake (789 yards)
Tackles: Daren Bates (94)
Sacks: Dee Ford* (6)
Interceptions: Daren Bates, Trent Fisher* (1)

What they're saying:
"The number one thing that our players have to do for us to be successful this year is get our edge back. That is the mental and physical toughness, the bluecollar, hardnosed, hityouinthemouth Auburn football that's made Auburn great. Worry about your teammate, not worry about yourself. Lose the entitlement issue. History shows if Auburn has their edge, they can compete for championships and win games," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn told reporters at SEC Media Days.

Three things to watch:

1. Finding the right quarterback: Usually at this point in the year there's a clear sign who will be each team's the starting quarterback, whether it's the way the spring game is handled or the feeling given through a coach's comments. But at Auburn, there's been no indication of who will be taking snaps under center come Week 1. Frazier and Jonathan Wallace have the head start, but Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson are right in the mix as well. Johnson, however, did receive some significant praise from his head coach at SEC Media Days when Malzahn said he had an "NFL-type arm" with a bright future.

2. Reestablishing the running game: There's a misconception that Malzahn's offense is all about spreading the field and throwing the football around like a maniac. It's been labeled as a spread offense, but the truth is the bulk of its success is often not through the air, but rather by way of the running game. When Auburn won the national championship in 2010 it averaged 284 yards on the ground each game, running the ball a whopping 652 times in all. Last season the offense faltered as the Tigers ran the ball just 438 times. For Auburn to get its edge back, it must reestablish the power running game with backs such as Tre Mason, softening up the interior of the defense to create the big plays through the passing game that fans had become accustomed to under Malzahn.

3. Shoring up the secondary: Auburn's secondary did something it hasn't done in a long time last season. This wasn't a good thing, as the cornerbacks failed to wrangle a single interception in 2012. The historic ineptitude will serve as motivation under the new coaching staff, senior cornerback Chris Davis explained, but it will take more than words to turn around a secondary that gave up 216 yards and four touchdowns through the air against Alabama. More than takeaways, Auburn needs to find playmakers who are capable of standing up to a league with some of the best depth its had at quarterback in quite some time. New defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme should help the back end of the defense, but help will need to come from up front, where senior Dee Ford has the chance to develop into an All-American defensive end.