Alabama, Auburn both boast ster­ling de­fenses

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By John Zenor

It’s no sur­prise that Alabama brings a for­mi­da­ble, ag­gres­sive de­fense that ranks among the na­tion’s best into Satur­day's Iron Bowl. The twist: Now, Auburn can make the same claim.

It’s no sur­prise that Alabama brings a for­mi­da­ble, ag­gres­sive de­fense that ranks among the na­tion’s best into the Iron Bowl.

The twist: Now, Auburn can make the same claim.

The 16th-ranked Tigers have the pro­gram’s best de­fense in years com­ing into Satur­day’s showdown with the top-ranked Crim­son Tide, which still prob­a­bly sets the stan­dard among col­lege de­fenses.

“It’s the best de­fense in col­lege foot­ball,” Auburn of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Rhett Lash­lee. “I think that’s pretty ob­vi­ous.”

Auburn’s is pretty good, too. Both have de­fen­sive fronts that can pun­ish run­ners and quar­ter­backs alike, with play­mak­ers in the sec­ondary and lineback­ers who can cover some ground.

The Tide ranks sec­ond na­tion­ally in scor­ing de­fense, giv­ing up 11.4 points per game. Auburn’s al­low­ing 14.3 points on av­er­age, sev­en­thbest na­tion­ally.

The Tigers haven’t ranked bet­ter than 48th in that cat­e­gory in the past seven sea­sons. “They’ve im­proved greatly since last sea­son,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of Auburn’s de­fense. “When we went into this sea­son, we felt like this had a chance to be one of our bet­ter de­fenses, at least since I’ve been here. Each week it seems like they’ve got­ten bet­ter.

“They’re stop­ping the run very well. We’re not giv­ing up a lot of ex­plo­sive plays in the pass or run game and our red zone de­fense has been ex­cel­lent.”

The game features two de­fenses that ex­cel at stop­ping the run but also some of the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence’s best pass rush­ers.

Alabama has Jonathan Allen (seven sacks), Tim Wil­liams (8.0) and Ryan An­der­son (6.5). Auburn’s Carl Law­son ac­tu­ally clocks in as the Iron Bowl leader with nine sacks, pair­ing with tackle Mon­trav­ius Adams to lead a de­fen­sive front that is tal­ented and fairly deep.

“They’re very phys­i­cal and ag­gres­sive,” Tide coach Nick Sa­ban said. “They’ve got sev­eral very good pass rush­ers.

A com­bi­na­tion of all those things has made them prob­a­bly the most ef­fec­tive front we’ve played against all year.”

The same un­doubt­edly goes for Auburn’s of­fense. The Tigers lead the SEC in rush­ing, but face the na­tion’s best de­fense when it comes to stop­ping the run. Alabama op­po­nents are av­er­ag­ing just 68.9 yards on the ground with only three rush­ing touch­downs.

The fact that the Tide is also sec­ond na­tion­ally in sacks per game bol­sters those num­bers, too. Auburn, mean­while, hasn’t al­lowed a rush­ing touch­down in the past eight games.

Alabama re­mains loaded with de­fen­sive stars. Allen is a fi­nal­ist for the Bed­narik Award given to the na­tion’s top de­fen­sive player. Lead­ing tack­ler Reuben Fos­ter is a Butkus Award fi­nal­ist as the na­tion’s top line­backer.

The Tide hasn’t al­lowed a touch­down in the last nine­plus quar­ters de­spite hav­ing lost safety Ed­die Jack­son to a bro­ken leg and hav­ing to shift corner­back Minkah Fitz­patrick over. The de­fense has even scored nine TDs.

Auburn’s de­fense has ex­celled in dif­fer­ent ways. The Tigers trail only Florida na­tion­ally in red zone de­fense, al­low­ing op­po­nents to score just 67 per­cent of the time af­ter pen­e­trat­ing the Tigers’ 20-yard line. They’re also tops with 65 passes bro­ken up.

ROBERT SUT­TON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS, FILE

Alabama col­lege foot­ball fans cheer dur­ing the Iron Bowl NCAA col­lege foot­ball game against Auburn, at Bryan­tDenny Stadium, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The top-ranked Crim­son Tide and No. 16 Auburn meet Satur­day in The Iron Bowl.

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