Auburn, Ala. (EETV) - It's that time of year again, No. 6 Auburn looks to extend their playoff hopes Saturday in the 2017 edition of the Iron Bowl.
Auburn is at the center of the college football universe welcoming No. 1 Alabama and ESPN's College Gameday.
This game will certainly be one for the ages as Auburn competes for a spot in the SEC Championship game Dec. 2.
But in order for Auburn to claim the SEC West title, they must first go through the most dominant college football program this decade.
Here are my 5 keys to an Auburn win over rival Alabama:
1) Contain Jalen Hurts
Alabama's super-star sophomore quarterback is no stranger to Auburn players.
Jalen Hurts threw for over 280 yards and rushed for 37 yards against the Tigers in their most recent match-up in 2016.
Well, needless to say, Hurts has only improved since his freshman season and is more potent than ever through the air, but more importantly on the ground.
Crazy stat:— Peter Burns (@PeterBurnsESPN) November 21, 2017
Jalen Hurts 1 turnover for every 320 plays
Baker Mayfield 1 turnover for every 81 plays
Sam Darnold 1 turnover for every 25 plays
Hurts has 686 rushing yards alone this season with 8 touchdowns. That is a lot of running scores for a player who is typically meant to throw the ball.
I don’t see Bama losing this week Jalen hurts has a IT factor I know they super banged up but I just don’t see auburn taking this game—
Needless to say, this stat further proves how much of a running threat Hurts is to Auburn.
"Probably the scariest thing is when things break down, he just takes off and he’s like a running back, said coach Gus Malzahn. "So you’ve got to stay in your gap. You’ve got to gang tackle. You’ve got to keep him contained.”
In order for Auburn to have a chance at taking down the Tide, they will have to find a way to stop Hurts before he can start running wild.
Luckily for the Tigers, they have one tough defense, especially at the line of scrimmage.
Auburn has allowed 1,300 yards rushing this season, that's just a little under 120 yards allowed rushing per game.
In order for Auburn to halt the Alabama offense, they will have to stop the Hurts scrambles. If they can do that, the Tigers greatly improve their chances of winning.
2) Run Kerryon Run
It's no surprise that Kerryon Johnson is the best player on the Auburn offense.
However, because of this, the Tide defense will do everything they can to stop the run.
Alabama defense allows less than 100 yards rushing per game, actually, they allow about 88 yards rushing.
They have also allowed only 6 rushing touchdowns this season. This averages out to allowing less than 1 rushing touchdown per game.
This defensive statistics may seem like Johnson will have no chance of getting his legs going, but there is a catch: injuries.
Earlier this season the Tide lost top linebackers, Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis.
The more I watch Alabama, the more I think Auburn will be able to run on them. Here's Aeris Williams finding a seam. He's not as good as Kerryon Johnson. In fact, their abilities aren't even close. pic.twitter.com/9NuypW8n0X— Zac Blackerby (@Zblackerby) November 16, 2017
Now, these players practiced this week for the first time since being hurt, but I double they will see the field against Auburn.
With the linebacking spot being a weak point for Alabama, Johnson will have a much easier time running the ball.
Considering Johnson has over 1,000 yards rushing this season and 16 rushing touchdowns, I would put my trust in him.
If Auburn can get Kerryon off and running, I feel the Tigers will be able to move the ball more effectively against the Tide.
And by moving the ball, Auburn will be able to score, giving them a better chance of winning.
3) No turnovers
A theme week-in and week-out: don't turn over the ball. The main key for Auburn to beat the Tide will be whether they can play a perfect game and make no mistakes.
"You have to play your best game, said Malzahn. "The good thing for us is that we do have good experience in this situation."
A key aspect of making no mistakes is not turning the ball over.
Alabama leads the country in scoring defense. Since 2016, Alabama has scored 123 points coming from non-offensive touchdown.
This season, the Tide has 19 takeaways. Basically, Alabama averages almost two takeaways per game.
Knowing this, Auburn cannot make a mistake by turning the ball over to Alabama.
If Auburn wants a chance at taking down considerably the best college football program this decade, they will have to make sure they secure the ball when it's in their possession.
4) Jam Calvin Ridley
Alabama's receiving weapon: Calvin Ridley. Ridley is by far and away one of the best receivers in the country this season.
Ridley is a major aspect of the Alabama offense this season.
We know Hurts can run the ball, but when he throws, there's a very high likelihood the ball will be going Ridley's way.
Ridley has over 850 receiving yards this season averaging about 17 yards per catch.
Calvin Ridley just passed Julio Jones for 3rd place on Alabama's list of career receiving yards. Now has 2,672 yards to Julio's 2,653.— Ben Jones (@BW_Jones) November 18, 2017
This basically means that Ridley is a major deep threat and the Auburn secondary must shut him down.
For Auburn to stop Ridley the key will be jamming him at the line of scrimmage before he can take off downfield.
Although Ridley is a major threat, Auburn's secondary has been solid.
The Tigers tend to allow just under 6 yards per reception this season, a relatively low number.
Headlined by Carlton Davis and Tray Matthews, the Auburn secondary has been a no-fly-zone almost all year, allowing an average of just about 184 yards through the air.
If the Auburn secondary can keep these numbers up, I see no issues in stopping Ridley.
In order to defeat the Tide, the Tigers must be able to stop Ridley and limit the deep passes that pick up chunks of yards.
5) Score in the red zone
This is clearly an obvious point, in order to defeat Alabama, Auburn must be able to score points in the red zone.
And not just any type of points, touchdowns.
Alabama's defense is one of the best in the country when it comes to red zone defense, allowing 11 red zone touchdowns this season.
But there is a glimmer of hope for Auburn scoring in the red zone: the fact they are tied for 16th in red zone offense in the country.
On 48 red zone appearances, Auburn has scored 25 rushing touchdowns, 7 passing touchdowns, and 12 field goals.
All that being said, for Auburn to take down Alabama, they must be able to score touchdowns in the red zone.
It's as simple as that: score more points than Alabama.