Previewing three matchups for the Alabama offense in the Crimson Tide's upcoming game against Auburn.
Kouandjio's play this season has validated his five-star ranking.
Alabama offensive tackles 71 Cyrus Kouandjio (6'6, 311, So.) and 76 DJ Fluker (6'6, 335, rJr.) vs. Auburn defensive ends 55 Corey Lemonier (6'4, 246, Jr.) and 95 Dee Ford (6'2, 246, Jr.).
From the UA perspective: The best thing you can say about Kouandjio is that he's gone long stretches this season without being noticed, which means he's been very effective while protecting AJ McCarron's blindside.
As for Fluker, he's playing his best at the right time of the season and his play isn't going unnoticed. NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr., ranked Fluker No. 25 on his latest Big Board for the 2013 draft.
From the Auburn perspective: Surely, you remember Lemonier, whose sack of McCarron led to a fumble that was recovered for an AU touchdown in the Tigers' 42-14 loss to the Crimson Tide a season ago.
Widely regarded as one of the SEC's top edge rushers, the junior got off to a solid start this season, posting five sacks in the Tigers' first four games. He's slowed down considerably since then, though, recording just a half sack in his last seven games.
Ford, on the other hand, has bounced back from an abdominal injury that hampered him in October and enters the Alabama game having posted four sacks in his last three games.
Who gets the nod?: Lemonier and Ford will present a strong challenge from a pass rush standpoint, but Fluker and Kouandjio have proven capable of hanging in with the SEC's top pass rushers. And then there's the running game, where the duo will enjoy a considerable size advantage this week. Edge to UA.
Alabama running backs 42 Eddie Lacy (6'0, 220, rJr.) and 4 TJ Yeldon (6'2, 216, Fr.) vs. Auburn middle linebacker 5 Jake Holland (6'1, 241, Jr.) and weakside linebacker 25 Daren Bates (5'11, 215, Sr.) .
From the UA perspective: It came against an FCS opponent, but it's worth noting that the Crimson Tide ground game hit the 300-yard rushing mark for the second time this season in last week's 49-0 win over Western Carolina. The performance ended a three-game stretch that saw Alabama fall short of the 200-yard mark.
Maybe we shouldn't be surprised that it's been the veteran Lacy who has stepped forward in recent weeks, rushing for 191 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games. While it's his first season as a primary option in the backfield, he's accustomed to the week-to-week grind that comes with life in the SEC.
Yeldon's status will be worth monitoring as the week moves along. The true freshman sustained a foot sprain against WCU and was limited earlier in the week. Depending on his availability, Kenyan Drake, fresh off a one-game suspension, and Brent Calloway could factor into the plan this week.
From the Auburn perspective: Bates, who will make his third start against Alabama this week, is on track to lead the Tigers in tackles for the second straight season. The senior has recorded 17 stops in three career appearances against the Crimson Tide.
Holland ranks fourth on the team in tackles, posting 67 stops in 10 games. He sat out the Georgia game two weeks ago with an ankle injury but was back in the lineup for Auburn's 51-7 win over Alabama A&M last Saturday.
Who gets the nod?: In terms of production, Bates has ranked among the top tacklers in the SEC each of the last two seasons. Still, it's hard to look past those 289 rushing yards Georgia put on the Tiger defense two weeks ago, with 221 of them coming from true freshman running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
I'm not convinced Lacy and Yeldon will combine for 200 yards this week, but they'll be effective enough against an AU defense that will likely spend a lot of time on the field. Edge to UA.
Alabama wide receivers 83 Kevin Norwood (6'2, 195, rJr.); 22 Christion Jones (5'11, 185, So.); 9 Amari Cooper (6'1, 198, Fr.); and 7 Kenny Bell (6'1, 180, rJr.) vs. Auburn cornerbacks 15 Joshua Holsey (5'11, 188, Fr.); 6 Jonathan Mincy (5'10, 190); and 11 Chris Davis (5'11, 200, Jr.).
From the UA perspective: In games against Texas A&M and WCU, Cooper and Bell combined to catch 12 passes for 293 yards (24.4 yards per reception).
Bell's two receptions for 46 yards, including a 41-yarder for a touchdown, in last season's meeting with AU represent the extent of the production for UA wide receivers in this rivalry. Amazingly, the junior's yards per catch average (26 ypc) has continued to swell as the season has progressed. His last seven catches have covered 232 yards (33.1 ypr).
Christion Jones has caught at least one pass in ten consecutive games, the longest streak by a UA wide receiver receiver. Norwood sat out the WCU game with a lower leg injury but has taken part in practices this week.
From the Auburn perspective: Simply put, the Tigers' secondary doesn't do interceptions. Auburn defensive backs have recorded one interception all season, with the lone pick coming from free safety Trent Fisher in last week's beatdown of FCS opponent Alabama A&M.
Between injuries and ineffective play, five different Auburn corners have made starts this season.
Mincy has been the most consistent presence at the position, recording 52 tackles and breaking up four passes while starting 10 games. With 29 tackles and five pass breakups, Holsey, a starter in five of his team's last six games, could be headed for Freshman All-SEC honors.
Who gets the nod?: While some would contend that Alabama has fallen in love with the passing game a little too much during the second half of the season, it's hard to ignore the big-play production of guys like Cooper and Bell.
Meanwhile, Auburn has done a pretty good job of getting off the field on third down, surrendering conversions 37.4 percent of the time. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the secondary hasn't been able to produce enough takeaways while giving up 16 touchdown passes. Edge to UA.