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December 3, 2013

SEC Matchups: When Auburn Runs

Missouri and Auburn will face off in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. Central. Throughout the week, PowerMizzou.com publisher Gabe DeArmond and AuburnSports.com publisher Jay G. Tate will break down the matchups, looking at a different aspect of the game each day of the week.

Gabe DeArmond,
Jay G. Tate, AuburnSports.com
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of Missouri's season has been the run defense. The Tigers are 14th in the country, giving up just 119.1 yards per game on the ground. That figure, as well as 3.6 yards per carry allowed, is second in the SEC to Alabama. However, last week, Texas A&M ran for 184 yards. If you take out 21 yards on 11 carries by Johnny Manziel, the Aggie running backs averaged more than six yards per carry against the previously stout Tiger defense.

Auburn, obviously, has the best running game Missouri has faced. As good as the Tigers' statistics look, Alabama's were better and the Crimson Tide gave up 296 yards on the ground in the Iron Bowl. If Missouri manages to get the upper hand in this matchup, it's hard not seeing Mizzou win the game. But that is far, far, far more easily said than done.

Auburn emerged as one of the nation's top rushing teams this season with a combination of quarterback Nick Marshall, tailback Tre Mason and revamped offensive line. Auburn uses only a handful of plays, but creates myriad looks through shifts, formations and personnel variances. The most important plays are the inside zone and what I'd call a weakside read option. Mason is a grinder who always pushes for an extra yard, but has enough speed to pull away from many defenders.

Marshall has excellent straight-line speed for a quarterback and rarely makes mistakes with his reads. He's averaging 7.8 yards per carry during the past five conference games, so he must be respected as a runner. Also, Auburn loves to operate at pace and often calls two plays at a time after gaining a first down. The Tigers endure their fair share of short-gaining plays, but they never get away from what they want to do. They'll keep plugging away until they get the desired result.

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