Editor's note: Each week, the War Eagle Extra blog normally has five questions with the beat writer of Auburn's opponent. This week isn't any different; the only thing that has changed is the format. Instead of running all five questions in one post on Thursday evening, Alabama beat writer Marq Burnett (who works for The Anniston Star in Anniston, Ala.) and Auburn beat writer Ryan Black will tackle one question each day, beginning this afternoon and running through Saturday, when each will give their prediction on this year's Iron Bowl.
Check back each afternoon as we look at a different aspect of the matchup. Today, looks at the battle between two top-ranked units entering Saturday's contest: Auburn's formidable ground game and Alabama's stingy rushing defense.
Ryan Black: It's common knowledge by now that Auburn leads the SEC in rushing offense, averaging more than 320 yards per game, while Alabama is tops in the league at stuffing the run, giving up just 91 yards per contest. While I'm not going to ask who "wins" this matchup, I want to know how many yards would put the Tide in a precarious position. 200, maybe? Or if Auburn even breaks triple-digits in rushing, does that mean Alabama is going to have major problems Saturday?
Marq Burnett: If Auburn is able to rush for 200 yards, something has gone terribly wrong for Alabama's defense. But seriously, I'd say Alabama is more concerned about how many yards per carry Auburn is able to average. Alabama's defense likes to hold opponents to 3.3 yards per carry and take away big plays in the run game. That goal will be extremely tough against the top rushing attack in the SEC, but if anyone can contain Auburn's running game, it's Alabama. Alabama prides itself on stopping the run and its defensive players thrive in physical games.
Alabama's defensive line play has improved throughout the season. The defensive line is getting push upfront which allows its talented linebackers like C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest attack the ball carrier. Alabama's secondary also likes to help in run support. You can't play for Nick Saban and Kirby Smart if you don't enjoy playing against the run.
To sum it up statistically, since 2009, Alabama's defense has held its opponents below 100 yards in 44 of 65 games (67.7 percent), including seven so far. If Alabama holds Auburn under that number, it will be a long day for the Tigers.
Burnett: While Auburn leads the SEC in rushing offense (320.27 yards per game), Alabama is No. 1 in rushing defense (91.27). Will the Tigers be able to run on the Tide and if not, will Nick Marshall be able to make enough plays with his arm against an Alabama defense that is ranked No. 2 in the SEC and No. 7 in the nation in pass defense?
Black: I'm not going to sit here and say that I expect the Tigers to be able to match their season average in rushing. Then again, I'm willing to give Auburn the benefit of the doubt; people expected Georgia to give Auburn a lot of problems last week given that the Bulldogs entered the game with the fourth-best rushing defense in the SEC. Of course, the Tigers then went out and ran for 323 yards.
As you brought up, though, I think Auburn knows it will be next-to-impossible to keep the ball almost exclusively on the ground and expect to beat Alabama. That's why I assume you'll see a similar number of passes that it had versus Georgia, when Nick Marshall put it in the air 26 times (completing 15). I'll put a number on it, too: If Marshall can't finish with more than 225 passing yards, it probably doesn't bode well for the Tigers' chances on Saturday.