A week after their thrilling upset of hated-rival Alabama, the Auburn Tigers head to the SEC Championship Game against Missouri.
It would be an incredible accomplishment for the No. 3-ranked Tigers to win the SEC title in Gus Malzahn’s first year.
Standing in Auburn’s way is No. 5 Missouri. Gary Pinkel’s Tigers, like Auburn, come in with a sparkling 11-1 record. They present numerous challenges to the SEC West champs.
Follwing are five keys to the game for Auburn:
1. Pressure Missouri Quarterback James Franklin
Franklin is easily the most valuable player on Missouri’s roster. After missing a month with a shoulder injury, he returned to lead the Tigers to crucial wins over Ole Miss and Texas A&M. In Missouri’s last contest against the Aggies, Franklin was stellar, throwing for 223 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 80 yards on the ground.
Auburn has the second-worst pass defense in the SEC, and if the Tigers allow Franklin to settle into a comfort zone, he will likely make them pay. They must put pressure on Franklin from start to finish, and not allow him to get clean looks downfield.
2. Throw the Football
In all likelihood, Missouri’s defense will focus on slowing down Auburn’s potent ground attack.
Quarterback Nick Marshall has steadily improved all season as a passer. If the Tigers wish to run the ball, which is their bread and butter, they must first loosen up the Missouri defense with downfield passing early in the game. This includes passing on first down, when Missouri is most likely to stack the box to stop the run.
3. Establish Long Drives
One of the most effective ways to slow down a dangerous quarterback, like Franklin, is to keep him on the sidelines. If they can loosen up the Missouri defense with downfield passes, the Tigers will then be able to pound the ball on the ground – their bread and butter.
Marshall and running back Tre Mason combine to form quite the formidable duo in the Auburn backfield. With 1,317 yards, Mason led the SEC in rushing in 2013, while Marshall wasn’t far behind with 922 yards. With these two grinding out yards, as well as clock, Auburn can neutralize Franklin, while wearing out the Missouri defense.
4. Convert on Third-and-Long
If Auburn is to keep the chains moving, the Tigers will inevitably have to convert on at least a few third-and-long situations.
This will entail blocking up front, running crisp routes, and making the proper quarterback reads.
With Marshall, Mason, and wide receiver Sammie Coates, the Tigers certainly have the personnel to do this. It’s a matter of execution, which is something Auburn excelled at all season.
5. Remain Focused
Auburn flew under the national radar for the better part of the 2013 season. The win over Alabama suddenly lifted the curtain on the Tigers, and shoved them into the national spotlight. Such attention from major news outlets is somewhat foreign to Auburn’s current players.
With the added element of the national title discussion thrown into the mix, being able to focus on the task at hand comes with greater difficulty.
If Auburn is to win on Saturday, its players must block out any and all distractions, and fix their attention on Missouri.