Auburn Tigers: Jeremy Johnson

Auburn didn’t look overly impressive in its win over Kansas State last week, but road wins in hostile environments such as the Little Apple are hard to come by. On Saturday, the Tigers return home in search of their 300th win at Jordan-Hare Stadium when they face Louisiana Tech. The stadium opened in 1939.

Key player: DB Nick Ruffin

Auburn will be without starting safety Jermaine Whitehead for the second straight week, which means another start for Joshua Holsey and more playing time for the younger players such as Ruffin and Stephen Roberts. Holsey didn’t miss a beat moving from boundary safety to free safety against Kansas State -- he was named the SEC defensive player of the week -- but I’m more intrigued with how the freshmen play, especially Ruffin. He’s played some this season at both star and safety, and he’s growing more confident with every game.

Key question: What will Jeremy Johnson's role be?

We all saw Johnson line up at wide receiver for a couple plays against Kansas State, right? And then when it looked he might get a snap as the quarterback, there was some confusion and Nick Marshall came right back in the game. The plan, the timing of it, the execution -- everything about Johnson’s appearance was odd. I expect the sophomore to have a more prominent role this Saturday against Louisiana Tech. The coaches want to use him going forward, and this is the perfect opportunity to give him more game experience.

Key stat: Auburn has not allowed a third-quarter touchdown this season.

The Tigers have only allowed three touchdowns in the last 10 quarters combined after giving up three touchdowns to Arkansas in the first half of the season opener. To me, this says two things. First, the defense is much improved in Ellis Johnson’s second year as coordinator. They’re still lacking that dynamic pass rusher off the edge, but they’ve been solid against the run and they’re forcing turnovers. Second, whatever the coaches are telling the players at halftime must be working because Auburn’s second-half adjustments have been very good.

Three keys: Auburn vs Arkansas

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
9:00
AM ET
Winning the SEC championship isn’t easy, but winning it two years in a row has proved nearly impossible as of late. The last team to repeat in the SEC was Tennessee in 1998. But that is the goal for Auburn this season, and the quest begins Saturday at home against Arkansas.

Key player: Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy

Injuries, suspensions and ineligible players have left a lot of questions marks on this Auburn defense, but McKinzy is one player you can count on. He led the Tigers with 75 tackles a year ago, and that number should increase this season with his move to middle linebacker. The junior will be especially important on Saturday against a physical Arkansas team that features a trio of talented running backs, and he also might get his feet wet as an edge pass-rusher, a spot where the coaches want to use him on third-down-and-long situations.

Key question: How will Jeremy Johnson play in his first SEC start?

The big question is obviously how long it will take before Nick Marshall comes into the game, but I’m curious to see how Johnson responds to the opportunity. He played well against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic last year, but those weren’t SEC opponents. All eyes will be on him this Saturday. How will he handle the pressure? If he struggles early and Marshall replaces him, he is a forgotten man. However, if he puts on a show in the first quarter, he might force the coaches to play him more this coming season.

Key stat: Arkansas allowed opponents to convert 43 percent of their third downs last season, 13th in the SEC and 94th best in the FBS -- ESPN Stats & Info

The key to slowing down this Auburn offense is to keep them off the field, and to do that, you have to make stops on third down. In last season’s game, the Tigers converted 6 of their 11 third-down attempts en route to a 35-17 victory. How do you make life easier on third down? By creating negative plays on first and second down. That will be a major part of the Razorbacks’ game plan for Saturday, so it’s important for Auburn, regardless of who plays quarterback, to get positive yardage on every play.

Second-year stars: Auburn

June, 4, 2014
Jun 4
2:30
PM ET
In 2013, the freshmen of the SEC were truly fabulous.

Hunter Henry and Alex Collins were impact players at Arkansas. Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche were spectacular for Ole Miss. And who can forget the play of Vernon Hargreaves III, Chris Jones and A'Shawn Robinson?

[+] EnlargeMontravius Adams
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsMontravius Adams burst onto the scene early last season but failed to produce much the rest of the 2014 campaign.
But standout rookies aren’t easy to come by. More often it takes some time to make a transition from high school to college, and in Year 2 we generally see the biggest jump in production from players.

With that in mind, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the players who didn’t quite break through as freshmen but could see their stock skyrocket with as sophomores.

Next up: Auburn

Class recap: Before Gene Chizik was fired, he and his staff had put together a strong recruiting class at Auburn. It was up to Gus Malzahn, who was hired in December, to try and keep it intact. The new staff saw in-state stars Reuben Foster and Dee Liner flip to Alabama, but they were able to keep defensive end Carl Lawson, the nation’s No. 2 prospect, and the majority of other recruits who had already committed. Malzahn also picked up a late commitment from junior college quarterback Nick Marshall who turned out to be a critical piece to Auburn’s turnaround this past season.

Second-year star: DT Montravius Adams (6-foot-4, 306 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Ranked No. 13 overall in the ESPN 300, Adams just missed out on five-star status. The Vienna, Ga., product was the No. 3 player in the Peach State and the No. 2 defensive tackle nationally.

2013 in review: Nobody will forget Adams running onto the field for the first time against Washington State and sacking the quarterback on his first-ever play. It ignited a defense that looked slow and stagnant before that, and it instantly created lofty expectations for the freshman star. However, that turned out to be Adams’ only sack of the season. He played in 13 games but finished with just 20 tackles, 1.5 for loss and that lone sack.

2014 potential: Maybe Adams wasn’t ready for the rigors of a college football season. His playing time decreased as the year went on, and with it, so did his impact on the game. He now has been at Auburn for almost a full year, and he had a chance to go through spring practice for the first time. Everybody is talking about Lawson as a breakout star for 2014, but what’s stopping Adams from becoming a dominant force up front? The talent is there, and with Nosa Eguae moving on, there’s now an opportunity, too. He has had star written all over him since he arrived on the Plains, but it’s up to him when he fulfills that potential.

Also watch out for: Adams and Lawson are both in line for huge sophomore seasons, but don’t sleep on fellow defensive lineman Elijah Daniel. He was fourth on the team in sacks (2.5) as a freshman and should get a boost in playing time. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson showed he was more than capable of filling in for Marshall when needed last year, and the coaches might try and use him even more this year. Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens are both expected to contribute to one of the deeper wide receiver corps in the SEC. Davis made some clutch catches last year while Stevens hauled in two touchdowns in the spring game. And knowing that both the starting kicker and punter were going to be seniors, Malzahn addressed each position in the 2013 class with Daniel Carlson at kicker and Jimmy Hutchinson at punter. The two redshirt freshmen are expected to start for the Tigers this fall.
Who are the players that this year’s Auburn team cannot live without? This week, I’ll take a look at the five most indispensable players on each side of the ball.

Let’s begin with the offense:

WR Sammie Coates: The talk this spring has been focused on junior college transfer D'haquille Williams and how deep the Auburn receiving corps is, but where would the Tigers have been last year without Coates? The sophomore, who had just six catches the year before, finished with 42 receptions for 902 yards and seven touchdowns. He was the lone player who kept defenses from putting everybody in the box to stop the run, and he’s fast enough that it’s almost impossible for one player to cover him. This year, he’s back and stronger than ever. The one-handed grab in the spring game might have been a glimpse into what’s to come. If Nick Marshall wants to take the next step as a passer, he has to have Coates on the field.


[+] EnlargeCorey Grant
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAuburn has plenty of running backs, but Corey Grant's speed would be hard to replace.
RB Corey Grant: Auburn’s offense is predicated on speed. It’s been the selling point of the program this offseason, and for Gus Malzahn to do what he wants to do, he needs players who are fast. Who better fits the bill than Grant? He reportedly ran a sub-4.2 40 last month, and if you don’t believe it, just go back and watch his touchdown run from the spring game. He brings a different element to the offense. He might lose the starting running back job to Cameron Artis-Payne, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less important. Auburn will have two other backs on campus this fall similar to Artis-Payne, but no player can match Grant’s speed out of the backfield. He’s easily the biggest home run threat on the team.

C Reese Dismukes: There’s an argument to be made that the center is the most important player on an offense. They don’t get as much attention as the quarterback or the skill players, but every single play begins with them. In Auburn’s case, it couldn’t be truer. Dismukes, who has been the starter since 2011, has been though the bad times and the good, and he was instrumental in last year’s turnaround. The senior was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list on Monday, and it would be a shock if he’s not a finalist for the award again this year. If you’re looking for somebody to help Auburn avoid getting complacent, look no further. Dismukes will make sure this team stays hungry in its quest to repeat as SEC champions.

QB Nick Marshall: OK, now the easy one. Marshall was the key last year, and as he improved, so too did the offense. The junior college transfer finished with 1,976 yards passing, 1,068 yards rushing and 26 combined touchdowns. He still has work to do in the passing game, but by all accounts, he’s improved this spring and could be in for a huge senior season. The only argument to be made against Marshall is that quarterback is actually a deep position for Auburn. Backup Jeremy Johnson showed he was more than able last season, and ESPN 300 signal caller Sean White is set to arrive later this month. But let’s not kid ourselves. If Auburn wants to reach the first ever College Football Playoff, it needs Marshall to stay healthy.

RT Avery Young: Typically, it’s the left tackle that teams covet, and while both Shon Coleman and Patrick Miller will be vital to Auburn’s success next season, the versatility of Young on the right side makes him an even more important commodity. Young took over at right tackle midway through the year last year and never relinquished the job. He exceeded expectations as a redshirt freshman, and now he’s entrenched there as the starter. However, the AU coaches gave him some reps at right guard this spring, and his ability to play multiple positions gives Auburn a deeper, more effective offensive line.
AUBURN, Ala. -- When Avery Young was spotted at right guard in practice this week, there was speculation and rumors running rampant across the Plains. The questions began trickling in. What did it mean for the left tackle battle? Are Shon Coleman and Patrick Miller both going to start? How about Chad Slade? Had the senior lost his job?

Not so fast.

“I want to make it very clear, we've not made any changes to our offensive line,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Thursday. “I really don't know why people think that. We're doing at offensive line the same thing we're doing at receiver, the same thing we're doing at running back and everywhere else, [we’re] mixing and matching people.

[+] EnlargeAvery Young
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAvery Young has been taking reps at guard, but that doesn't mean that he's moving there permanently.
“Avery Young may get some reps at right guard. That doesn't mean he's not playing right tackle. That doesn't mean Chad is not playing at right guard. And sometimes we may put Chad at left guard and take [Alex] Kozan out and give him a blow.

“What happens if Chad Slade goes down in the middle of the season. What are we going to do then? Or what happens if Alex Kozan goes down. What are we going to do then?”

The spring is for experimenting with players at different positions and seeing what you have. It’s meant to build depth in case of an injury or a suspension during the season, but it’s not the time for coaches to change up the depth chart. The season opener is still over four months away.

Just because junior college transfer Xavier Dampeer has been working some at center with the first group, it doesn’t mean that All-SEC center Reese Dismukes is in danger of losing his job. The staff just wants to find a quality backup and a player who can take over once Dismukes has graduated.

“It's just all about how we manage the reps,” Lashlee said. “We've done it at wideout. We've even done it at quarterback some. Jeremy Johnson needs to get some reps with the older line at times. So like I said, we're not going to make any decisions on depth chart in the middle of spring.”

There might be uncertainty on the offensive line or at spots such as running back and wide receiver, but the strength of the Auburn offense is how deep it is.

The Tigers have three capable running backs battling for the No. 1 job this spring, and two more are expected to join the fold in the summer. The wide receiver position is as deep as any on the roster with the entire corps returning and the addition of D'haquille Williams, the top juco player in the country. With Nick Marshall at quarterback and Johnson behind him, they are set at a spot where most teams still have question marks.

So no, Young’s move to right guard isn’t permanent. It doesn’t mean that he won’t start there at some point during the season, but for now the move is meant to build depth and improve an offensive line that’s already considered one of the best in the SEC.

SEC's lunch links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
12:00
PM ET
The SEC has been pumping out internet memes lately. Over the weekend there was Gene Chizik staring down his daughter's prom date. Then during Monday night's basketball national championship game, rapper Drake's many sports allegiances (Kentucky among them) were on display. Oh, and the kid Cats lost to UConn and then acted like they'd never heard of the NBA draft.

Let's swim back into the friendlier waters of SEC football, shall we?

SEC lunchtime links

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
12:00
PM ET
Spring storylines abound this week around the SEC. Let's take a quick spin around the league to see what's happening.
Sean WhiteTom Hauck for Student SportsSean White is getting acclimated to Auburn's workout plan while finishing up high school in Florida.

Auburn is loaded at quarterback with Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson, but that doesn’t mean the coaches aren’t excited about incoming freshman Sean White, an ESPN 300 quarterback from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who earned MVP honors at the Elite 11 competition and the Under Armour All-American Game.

We caught up with White to talk about the upcoming season, how he fits in Gus Malzahn’s offense and who he has winning it all in basketball.

I know you’ve been watching the tournament. What are your thoughts so far?

White: It’s been good. There’s been a lot of close games, fun to watch. I haven’t been doing too well (with his bracket), but that’s OK. There’s always more games, so we’ll see how it goes.

What do you think of Auburn’s new basketball coach, Bruce Pearl?

White: I think it’s awesome. I know he was a great coach at Tennessee. He had them going deep in the tournament. I know he’ll do the same thing at Auburn because Auburn is a great place. I think they were just waiting on a real good coach to come in because they have a beautiful gym and everything like that. I think he’s going to do a great job there.

Getting back to football, Auburn started spring practice this week. What are your expectations for the upcoming season?

White: My expectations are high. I think that we have a lot of guys back, especially on offense. We lost a couple guys, but the majority of people are back and defensively I think we’ll be even stronger than we were last season. Teams are going to be looking for us. We’re going to have a bigger target on our back, but I think we’re going to be ready for that. We’re going to work hard in the summer like they’re already up there working hard in the spring. We’ll be ready for everybody’s best shot.

They ran a lot last season. Something like 73 percent of the time. When you get there and it’s your time, do the coaches plan to throw it more?

White: When Coach Malzahn recruited me, he said he adapts his offense to what the quarterback can do. With Nick at quarterback, he’s obviously an unbelievable runner with the ball, so on offense they used his running ability on a lot of plays. The next quarterback that steps in, whether it’s me or someone else, he’s just going to adapt the offense to their strengths and fit it to what they can do well. I think that’s why he’s so successful. Pretty much every quarterback he’s worked with, he’s had success with.

Malzahn is known for his hurry-up, no-huddle offense. How do you feel about running it?

White: I feel really comfortable because in high school, it wasn’t quite as fast as Auburn runs it, but we ran a no-huddle offense, so I’m used to going fast and getting as many plays in as possible. I’m excited to get to Auburn, run it more and play for Coach Malzahn and his system that’s worked for years. Words can’t describe how excited I am.

I have to ask you about the proposed 10-second rule. Obviously it didn’t go through, but what did you think when you saw that?

White: It was pretty obvious that the teams that were for putting in a 10-second rule were teams that ran a small, methodical, pro-style offense, so they were obviously going to try and slow down some of the teams that were beating them with the fast-tempo offenses. They want to play slow. They want to play methodical. So they were trying to get the rule changed, but there’s no evidence that going fast is affecting player safety. I don’t see the NCAA making a rule to change anything like that, so I think Auburn will just be going as fast as ever.

What’s your plan between now and when you enroll? What are you working on?

White: I’m just down here in South Florida throwing. They gave me the huge workout book so I can get accustomed to what they do and the workouts they do. So I’ve been doing those workouts down here over at the school weight room. I’ve been doing speed training and everything just to get myself physically ready, so when I move to Auburn, I’ll be ready to go.

Lastly, who do you have winning it all in the NCAA tournament and why?

White: I like Virginia. I’ve been watching a couple games of them this year. They don’t have any weaknesses. They can score, rebound, do it all. And they’ve been battle-tested in the ACC. I think that’s the best conference in basketball.

SEC lunchtime links

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
12:00
PM ET
Yes, it's that time of year where the talk is centered on the hardwood and brackets, but don't forget, spring football and pro days are in full swing, so there is still much to talk about on the gridiron. A sampling of news, notes and nuggets from around the SEC today:
This is Part III of a weeklong series predicting what changes are ahead for Auburn this spring.

AUBURN, Ala. -- In 2013, Auburn ran it 72 percent of the time. That means for every time they threw a pass, they ran it three times. That’s closing in on teams such as Air Force, Georgia Tech and Navy, and yet, the Tigers don’t run a triple-option offense -- not a traditional one, anyway.

Even Gus Malzahn, a run-first head coach, would say his Auburn team ran the ball a lot last season. In fact, no team he has coached at the college level has run that much. The closest would’ve been when he was AU’s offensive coordinator in 2010 and the Tigers ran 69 percent of the time, but traditionally, his teams have had more of a 60-40 split.

[+] EnlargeCoates
Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsSammie Coates returns after leading Auburn with 42 receptions for 902 yards and seven touchdowns.
So to say that Auburn will be more balanced on offense in 2014 isn’t exactly going out on a limb.

Tre Mason, the SEC’s leading rusher, is gone. Greg Robinson, the league’s best run-blocking offensive tackle, left after his sophomore year. And Jay Prosch, arguably one of the nation’s top blocking fullbacks, played his last game against Florida State.

It’s still Auburn, though, and Malzahn is still the coach which means the Tigers are going to run it more often than they throw it. You can take that to the bank. However, don’t be surprised if the split on next year’s team is closer to 60-40 as opposed to 70-30.

How’s this for a prediction? Quarterback Nick Marshall will average at least 10 more passing attempts per game next season. That’s 27 for those counting at home.

Too many? Keep in mind that Auburn has its top four receivers back including Sammie Coates, the team leader with 42 catches for 902 yards and seven touchdowns. Marshall will also have tight end C.J. Uzomah, his go-to target down in the red zone, at his disposal.

But the real reason isn’t Coates or Uzomah. It’s the addition of the top 2014 junior college player in the nation, wide receiver D'haquille Williams.

From his RecruitingNation scouting report: “[Williams] has terrific tools and phenomenal ball skills/body control to consistently make plays even when covered. Possesses premier, immediate impact ability, but still must learn little nuances of the position.”

The incoming star has already enrolled and could be the team’s No. 1 wide receiver by the end of the spring. If nothing else, he and Coates should form a receiving tandem that’s as good as any other in the SEC. How can you not throw to that?

This will also be Marshall’s first spring practice with the team, and the emphasis will be on his improvement as a passer.

“He throws the ball well,” Malzhan said after the season. “I think the big thing is just getting his timing down with him and his receivers. And probably just giving him a little more freedom now that he will know the offense even better.

“Week to week, you have a game plan. It was good for him having that 30 days [prior to the BCS title game]. I think you could see that in the passing game. We’re looking forward to spring.”

Malzahn will also have Jeremy Johnson this spring, an asset he didn’t have a year ago at this time. The backup quarterback, considered a better passer than Marshall, threw for 422 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman. He could be in for a bigger role this coming season as the staff looks to find news ways to get him involved.

Ultimately, Auburn will still be a run-first team, but if the Tigers wants to play to their strengths and utilize all of their weapons, that means a more balanced offense on the Plains in the fall.

Room to improve: Wide receiver

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
10:00
AM ET
Editor’s note: This is part four in a weeklong series looking at Auburn’s top five position groups with room to improve.

AUBURN, Ala. -- With Nick Marshall back, Jeremy Johnson waiting in the wings and four-star QB Sean White expected to arrive this summer, quarterback is one position that Auburn doesn’t have to worry about. If anything, it will be improved from last season as Marshall will have a chance to go through spring practice for the first time.

The key will be his development as a passer, though. He led all SEC quarterbacks in rushing last year, but if there’s an area where he can improve, it’s throwing the football.

“We will see where we’re at with the talents around him,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “We really feel like we can be effective in the passing game and we can be more balanced, but at the same time, we’re going to play to our strengths.”

The strengths last year included Tre Mason and a dominant offensive line. It didn’t include a consistent crop of wide receivers. If Marshall wants to take the next step as a quarterback, it’s on the receivers, old and new, to step up and play better.

[+] EnlargeSammie Coats
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAuburn's Sammie Coates might not be a prototypical go-to wideout, but he will likely be Nick Marshall's top target this fall.
Battling for No. 1: It was a breakout year for Sammie Coates. The sophomore had 42 catches for 902 yards and seven touchdowns after catching just six passes the season before. He might not be your typical go-to wide receiver, but he had a connection with Marshall that can’t be taught. He’ll be leaned on heavily again this season. After Coates, there are a handful of receivers who have potential but have yet to play to their abilities. Ricardo Louis is the perfect example. He showed what he can do against Georgia, catching four passes for 131 yards and a touchdown, but the next week he had just two catches for negative yards. The talent is there, but can he put it together? The biggest surprise last year was the play of freshman Marcus Davis. He wasn’t highly touted coming out of high school, but he made some clutch catches during the season and finished third on the team in receptions (23).

Strength in numbers: With Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Melvin Ray all back along with the three players mentioned above, there isn’t a lack of options at wide receiver for Auburn. Bray was second on the team with three touchdown receptions, and Ray caught his first touchdown on the biggest stage, the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. The Tigers also have a pair of talented freshmen -- Tony Stevens and Dominic Walker -- who hope to improve from Year 1 to Year 2. They were both ranked in the ESPN 300 when they signed last February. The biggest boost could come from the return of Jaylon Denson. The junior was starting for the Tigers until he tore his ACL in game four against LSU. Denson wasn’t known as a pass-catcher, but he was as good a downfield blocker as they had on the team.

New on the scene: It’s fair to say that Auburn’s best wide receiver hasn’t even been mentioned yet. He hasn’t played a down for the Tigers, but D'haquille Williams has the size, skill and potential to emerge as the go-to guy in a crowded group of receivers. He was the top junior college player in the country, he enrolled in January, and assistant coach Dameyune Craig tabbed him as a player who could make a Jameis Winston-like impact when he gets to the Plains. High praise for a kid who has yet to catch a pass yet, but he’s not the only newcomer who could make an early impact. ESPN 300 athlete Stanton Truitt is thought to be the fastest player in Auburn’s 2014 class, and even if he doesn’t break the rotation at wide receiver his first year, he could help the Tigers in the return game.

Five things: Auburn-Alabama

November, 30, 2013
11/30/13
7:00
AM ET
The RVs started rolling into Auburn last week. They’re expecting close to 150,000 people on campus for game day. There’s a reason why the Iron Bowl is the best rivalry in college football. Here are five things to watch from Saturday’s Alabama-Auburn game.

The first five minutes: After the Georgia game, Auburn defensive end Dee Ford was already talking about the Iron Bowl. He said the first five minutes would be crazy, but then it’s time to go play football. He was right. But the first five minutes will still be critical for both teams. The atmosphere will be electric. The players will be amped. It’s important for Alabama not to fall behind early, but it’s just as important for Auburn to use the crowd without getting too excited. The Tigers still need to stick to their game plan. Gus Malzahn is one of the best at scripting the first couple of drives, but it’s up to the players to execute. Who will draw first blood?

Best on best: Auburn leads the SEC in rushing, averaging 320 yards per game. Alabama is tops in the conference against the run, giving up just 91 yards per game on the ground. Something has to give. If recent history repeats itself, the Crimson Tide could have the advantage. In 2010, Cam Newton and the AU offense averaged 323 rushing yards per game coming into the Iron Bowl, but they finished with just 108 yards against Alabama. The Tigers ran for a measly 78 yards in 2011. But don’t expect Malzahn to deviate from his game plan. He has three capable running backs and the best running quarterback in the SEC. He’ll likely run it until it works.

Johnson’s impact: With that (above) said, Auburn is going to have to be able to throw the football if it wants to knock off the Tide. Nick Marshall might not be the league’s most accurate passer, but he’s more than capable of getting the job if needed. However, don’t be surprised if freshman signal caller Jeremy Johnson sees a bigger role on Saturday. He’s the better passer of the two, and although the stakes are high, he might be called on to try and take advantage of a secondary that has looked vulnerable at times. There’s no telling how much Johnson will actually play, but it’s another wrinkle that Alabama’s defense has to be ready for.

Getting to AJ: If Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has a monster game against Auburn, he could become the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy. Newton locked up in the Heisman in 2010 with his second-half heroics against Alabama in the Iron Bowl. But Auburn isn’t about to let McCarron have his Heisman moment inside Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. The Tigers know they need to stop Alabama’s quarterback if they want to win, and it starts with getting pressure on him. Ford is one of the top pass rushers in the SEC with nine sacks on the season. He will be the catalyst, but the whole defensive line needs to step up and play well.

The fourth quarter: As important as the first five minutes will be, the fourth quarter is when the game will ultimately be decided. Auburn had been one of the better fourth-quarter teams, specifically on defense, but that wasn’t the case against Georgia its last time out. The Tigers gave up a three-touchdown lead in the final 12 minutes and would’ve lost if not for the Hail Mary from Marshall to Ricardo Louis. That can’t happen against the Tide. The goal for Auburn should be to keep it close and then do what it’s done all year -- find a way to win. Alabama might be favored, but if it’s close in the fourth quarter, anything can happen.

1993: The forgotten Iron Bowl

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
10:00
AM ET

It's easy to understand the hype for this year's matchup of No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn. But imagine a game so huge that it sold out two stadiums at the same time.

It's the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Iron Bowl, one of the most unusual matchups in the rivalry's history. That year, defending national champion Alabama was 8-1-1 heading into a matchup with 10-0 Auburn.

But since Auburn was on probation, the game at Jordan-Hare Stadium would become the only battle between the Tide and the Tigers not shown on national television since 1981. And fans clamored to watch it: tickets for that game ($500) were more expensive than they are today ($300).

[+] EnlargeIron Bowl
Courtesy Bryant Museum Alabama fans who couldn't get to the '93 Iron Bowl in person watched on the stadium screen at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
As a result, 47,421 tickets were sold at Bryant-Denny Stadium to see the game via simulcast -- to watch a game on an empty field, on a video board that's nowhere near the size or quality seen in stadiums today. It's widely hailed as the only game ever to sell out two stadiums. But in actuality, Bryant-Denny Stadium seated many more; it just didn't make sense to sell more tickets with the limited sight angles.

Whatever hype is being generated now might pale in comparison to the platitudes surrounding the game two decades ago. Not many broadcasts have ever started off like Auburn’s did that day.

"At a remote outpost in frozen South Korea, an Army sergeant tunes his radio to the Armed Forces Network to listen as he pulls guard duty along the DMZ," Auburn announcer Jim Fyffe said. "A Selma native in Fairbanks, Alaska, is hosting a listening party today with his friends, who will hear the game via telephone, all decked out in orange and blue. A sellout crowd of 85,000 will watch in person, while 44,000 more, who scarfed up all the available tickets, will view a closed-circuit telecast in Tuscaloosa, making this the only game to sell out two stadiums at one time.

"It impacts the lives of just about everyone who lives here or ever has. If your team wins, seashells and balloons. But losing means a whole year of pure agony. It's the annual meeting between Auburn and Alabama. Hello again, everybody. War Eagle! from Jordan-Hare Stadium."

Yet despite its lore, in many ways, it's the forgotten Iron Bowl. Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, the hero of the game, has lost pieces of it over the last two decades. Former Auburn coach Terry Bowden has, too. And like any good story, its legend has grown thanks to the limited amount of people who saw it.

[+] EnlargePatrick Nix
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesPatrick Nix knows making a big play in the Iron Bowl is something that will last forever.
But Nix's story carries a message. If current Auburn backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson is listening, Nix says to be ready.

"Someone asked me the other day if this kind of game can make or break somebody, and I think I'm living proof that it can,” Nix said. “You don't know if it's going to be Jeremy Johnson, or it's going to be a backup DB who comes in and makes an interception, or a defensive end that's down the line and makes a crucial sack. You don't know who it will be in a game like this and who will be remembered.

"That's what makes this game so special and this rivalry so special is that it is that big and everyone knows exactly where they are when things like that happen."

Nix is speaking from experience, particularly his time coming off the bench for Auburn in the 1993 Iron Bowl. He came on for the injured Stan White and led a remarkable comeback that sealed the Tigers’ undefeated season.

He has talked about the game countless times, but now, 20 years later, he can't seem to recall who said what and when.

All Nix remembers of that November afternoon is the blasted fourth-and-14 play after White went down with a knee injury. Oddly enough, Nix remembers exactly where his helmet was -- under the bench where a grad assistant left it, just in case. And he can recall fondly how he lobbied his coaches to go for it. Bowden, Auburn's first-year head coach, finally had to tell him to shut up and run the play that very few actually saw, yet everyone professes to remember.

"The story has been exaggerated over the years," Nix said. "One time it's me throwing the winning pass, a last-second pass and all this kind of stuff, and none of that was true. It was the middle of the third quarter and we were still losing.

"There's been a lot of talk of 'Nix to Sanders,' and it all starts with that '93 game."

"I'll be honest with you: I probably gave a great speech because I was so excited, but I don't remember," said Bowden, now the head coach at Akron. "I'd like to think I gave a speech that had an impact on the players, but I've given too many that I thought were great but didn't do much. If I did, I'm glad that I did, but over the years, this being the 20th anniversary, too many pregame speeches have run together."

[+] EnlargeJordan-Hare Stadium
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesJordan-Hare Stadium will play host to this year's Iron Bowl, but which team will create a lasting memory?
It's funny, Nix explained, that so many fans remember the touchdown he threw to Frank Sanders as the winning play -- a beautiful lob pass down the near sideline just shy of the goal line -- when in fact it only pulled Auburn within two points. It took a field goal and a late touchdown run to seal the victory.

"The hard work paid off," said Nix, who has gone on to lead the football program at Scottsboro High (Ala.). "The coaches knew how hard I prepared for that moment, never knowing it was going to be like that. And when it came, I took advantage of it."

"When I put Patrick Nix in, his arm's not so strong that he could throw the takeoff to the field side, so I flipped my formation and put Frank in the boundary," Bowden said of the famous touchdown pass. "Well, you see Antonio Langham start to come halfway across the field before he waved himself off. The other cornerback was good, but Antonio was a first-rounder. Well, I always wonder if Frank could have out-jumped Antonio."

A replay of the broadcast can be found online, but for those at the center of the game, some memories have faded in the last 20 years.

"There are a bunch of stories I've heard about where people were when I completed that pass against Alabama," Nix said. "Probably the craziest one was that someone was at a funeral and they were riding in the procession in the car. They were one of the pallbearers and they all wouldn't get out of the car at the funeral because of the fourth-down play. All the pallbearers stayed in the car listening to the radio, and then when it was completed the car just went crazy, rocking and everything. They all had to get out of the car and be very solemn and they were all trying to control themselves at a funeral.

"It's a different rivalry, a different deal and people don't always act quite sane over it. But it's a lot of fun."

Five things: Auburn-Tennessee

November, 9, 2013
11/09/13
7:00
AM ET
AUBURN, Ala. -- The last time Tennessee beat Auburn was back in 1999, when Tee Martin was still the quarterback. The Tigers have won five straight in the series, including a 26-22 victory in Knoxville four years ago. They're hoping to make it six in a row with a win on Saturday (Noon ET, ESPN).

Quarterback play: Auburn controls its own destiny in the SEC West, while Tennessee is fighting just to make a bowl game. The teams aren't that far apart from a talent standpoint, but the reason for the disparity could be attributed to the quarterback position. The Tigers have been steady. Junior college transfer Nick Marshall has been a difference maker, and when he's been hurt, freshman Jeremy Johnson has been able to step right in and run the offense. Meanwhile, the Vols have used three different signal callers this season. Freshman Joshua Dobbs has shown flashes since taking over the job, but he'll have to play his best game yet to beat Auburn.

Red-zone defense: For a defense, it's not always about how many yards you give up. It's about how many points you give up. That couldn't be more true for both Auburn and Tennessee. The two defenses have struggled in terms of yards allowed, but when it comes time to make a stop, nobody has been better, outside of top-ranked Alabama. The Tigers and Volunteers rank No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the SEC this season in red-zone defense. If Tennessee wants to keep it close Saturday, it has to keep Auburn of the end zone when the Tigers get inside the 20.

30 points or more: Auburn suffered a minor hiccup on the road at LSU early in the season, but since that game, the offense has been rolling. The Tigers have scored at least 30 points in their last five games, and when they score 30 or more, they're tough to beat. In fact, Auburn has won 84 straight games when scoring 30 or more, a mark that goes back to 1996. Both Marshall and Johnson have played a major role in the efficiency of the offense, but it starts with a rushing attack that's ranked No. 1 in the SEC, averaging 306.2 yards per game.

Forcing turnovers: Auburn had two interceptions all of last season. Through the first nine games, the Tigers already have recorded 10 picks this season, and they're among the SEC leaders with 15 turnovers. It's a defense that has been both active and opportunistic. On Saturday, winning the turnover battle will be key. Tennessee has committed only one turnover in its two SEC home games -- an upset over South Carolina and an overtime loss to Georgia. But on the road, the Vols have committed 11 turnovers in three games. Auburn would like to buck that trend, but it also has to be careful against a UT defense that has forced 18 turnovers on the season.

Rise and shine: It will be a bit strange for Auburn when it takes the field Saturday morning. Gus Malzahn's team has played all but one game at night, and this will be the earliest kick all season for the Tigers. To prepare, Malzahn encouraged his players to go to bed 30 minutes earlier than they normally do each night this week. They're hoping to keep the same routine prior to the game, but it will be uncharted waters for this year's Auburn team. In the past, the Tigers have struggled with early games.

What we learned: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
10:00
AM ET
The stats from Saturday’s game are pretty similar, if not in favor of Arkansas. The Razorbacks had the ball nearly 10 minutes longer than Auburn. They were only outgained by 20 yards (366 to 346), and they were 9-of-16 on third downs. Still, the game never felt close as Auburn cruised to a 35-17 victory on the road.

Here are three things we learned from the Tigers’ win.

Two can play that game: Bret Bielema wanted to establish the run early for Arkansas, but somebody forgot to tell him they also have to play defense. The SEC’s top rushing offense gashed the Hogs for 233 yards on 46 carries, good for an average of more than five yards per carry. Auburn running back Tre Mason was the star. He finished with 32 carries for 168 yards and four touchdowns. In the end, the Tigers sent a message to Bielema and Co. that they can play their own version of “normal American football.” It doesn’t matter the formation. It doesn’t matter if it’s hurry-up. They’re still going to run it down your throat.

The shoulder is fine: It really was a game-time decision, but Nick Marshall got the start at quarterback for Auburn on Saturday. He was just 2-of-3 for 8 yards in the first half, but he showed no ill effects of the shoulder injury he suffered last week when he connected with Sammie Coates for 88 yards and a touchdown. It was the Tigers’ longest play from scrimmage this season. Marshall finished 7-of-8 through the air for 118 yards and the lone touchdown. He also rushed for 59 yards on nine carries. Backup Jeremy Johnson took a few snaps in the second half and completed his only pass attempt of the game for 15 yards.

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: The overall stats might have been comparable Saturday, but the biggest discrepancy came in the turnover column. Auburn forced three turnovers -- not to mention the goal line stand early in the fourth quarter -- and yet, the offense didn’t give up the ball up once. The Tigers only scored one touchdown off the three turnovers, but for the season, they have now outscored their opponents 59-10 in possessions following a turnover. This is an Auburn defense that has shown it will give up yards, but it will also make a play when needed. Something can be said for that.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Pac-12 South Best Division In College Football?
The Pac-12 South boasts five teams ranked in the AP Top 25. The much-ballyhooed SEC West only has four. Could the Pac-12 South be the best division in college football?
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 11/22