“We’ve got to stop the run and make them one-dimensional,” he said.
Problem is, Alabama is just as good in the “other” dimension.
When Auburn takes on Alabama in Friday’s Iron Bowl, the Tigers will be attempting to stop the most balanced offense in the Southeastern Conference.
The Crimson Tide ranks fourth in the SEC in total offense, including fourth in rushing offense and third in passing offense.
“They’re very, very balanced,” said Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof. “When you look at their offense, that’s what you see.
“They make people pay. They can run the ball really physical, and they can handle the big plays too. So they’re very, very balanced, and it’s a great opportunity, great challenge for us.”
With tailbacks Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson leading the way, Alabama has rushed 393 times for 2,034 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy has completed 70 percent of his passes for 2,390 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Julio Jones has 65 receptions for 885 yards and six touchdowns.
“They are very willing to throw it down the field,” said Auburn coach Gene Chizik. “Their running game, they have obviously two great running backs.Again, the quarterback is really doing a great job throwing the football. McElroy has thrown only five interceptions all year, which in 11 games is pretty outstanding. They’re really just a tremendous offense that is going to challenge us defensively again with great receivers.”
Chizik said it’s also going to be critical for Auburn’s defense to keep Alabama out of third-and-short situations.
“I think there’s no question for us to be able to be in this ballgame, our defense has to be able to make some plays on early downs,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any question with the rhythm that they’re in, with a controlled passing game that they’re really efficient at and the physical downhill running game, we’re going to have to be good on those early downs and try to get some negative plays. It’s going to start with our defensive line and all four of those guys up front.
That’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Auburn has been solid against the run all season, allowing 111.5 yards per game, second fewest in the SEC behind South Carolina (96.1).
However, the Tigers have struggled against the pass, allowing 244.2 yards per game, second-highest total in the SEC.
With its balance, Alabama figures to put plenty of pressure on Auburn’s safeties, who will be involved both in run support and pass coverage.
Chizik says that’s only part of the difficulty in defending the Crimson Tide.
“They’re going to put pressure everywhere,” he said. “That’s what is making them so efficient offensively. They put pressure on your corners because they have great wide-outs. They put pressure on your safeties right now because you commit them to the run. If you do, then your corners can be exposed some. Do you play them back there a little bit deeper and really protect the passing game first? If you do that, then your front seven has to hold up. There’s really pressure everywhere when you have an offense that is very versatile with great players at different positions both on the perimeter and inside it puts a lot of pressure on everybody.”
Perhaps Auburn’s best way to defend Alabama is with a good offense of its own.
The Tigers are certainly capable of that. Auburn leads the SEC in scoring offense at 42.8 points per game.
Chizik hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“I’m never into a track meet,” he said. “That’s not what we want, but we have to play well defensively against a team like this or it will be a track meet. They certainly have the potential to make it that so we’re going to have to play really well on defense. We’ve been preparing really well. I think we have a really good plan, but again, we’re going to play against some great players and a great scheme. I’d like it to be a track meet for our offense, but I’d like that every week.
“This is the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, so we’re not anticipating that. We’re anticipating an extremely tough game.”