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Three UA-AU questions revisited

Revisiting three questions for top-ranked Alabama (11-1, 7-1 in SEC) following its 34-28 loss to No. 4 Auburn (11-1, 7-1) at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

CJ Mosley and Trey DePriest combined to make 25 tackles against AU, but it wasn't enough.

What are the magic numbers for the Alabama defense this week?

Three questions on Friday: 151 and 60.

The first served as Auburn's rushing total in the Tigers' 26-21 loss to Alabama in 2009. The total, spurred by a 67-yard touchdown run off on a reverse, marked the high for a Gus Malzahn offense during his three-year stint as Auburn's offensive coordinator.

To keep Tre Mason, Nick Marshall and the rest of the AU rushing attack below that number, the Alabama defense will need to limit the Tigers to more than half of their rushing average (320.3 yards per game) for the 2013 season.

For Auburn to exceed that number, it will need to run for 60 more yards than CJ Mosley and company have allowed on average (91.3 yards per game) through 11 games.

As for 60, it represents the percentage opposing offenses have converted red zone opportunities into points against the Crimson Tide defense this season. In 20 red zone trips, opponents have scored just nine touchdowns and three field goals, a ratio that ranks first in the SEC.

Meanwhile, Auburn leads the SEC in red zone offense, converting 42 of 48 opportunities, including 33 touchdowns. Like every other aspect of this game it seems, this one will come down to the run game, as 28 of the Tigers' red zone touchdowns have come on the ground. As for Alabama, the Crimson Tide has surrendered just five rushing touchdowns of any kind in 11 games.

Three answers on Sunday: With Mason, Marshall and Corey Grant combining for 162 yards in the first half alone, it took Auburn all of two quarters to surpass the 151-yard mark.

It will likely go overlooked but Auburn's 81-yard drive at the end of the first half had everything to do with the Tigers ensuring that the Crimson Tide was in for a four-quarter battle.

After watching Alabama go on a 21-0 run to take a two-touchdown lead, Malzahn's offense needed just seven plays -- six runs by Mason for 66 yards and one by Marshall of 15 -- to pull back to within a touchdown at 21-14.

Those hoping for halftime adjustments to slow the Tiger surge were disappointed. Auburn opened the second half with a game-tying 69-yard drive that ended with Marshall targeting Alabama corner Cyrus Jones on the first of two game-tying scoring tosses that came at the hands of the sophomore.

While it managed to get some stops in the second half, the Alabama defense never really solved Auburn's running game. The success it did have could have been attributed as much to Malzahn being temporarily distracted by perimeter runs and some occasional pocket passing than Alabama's front seven winning up front.

Typically, teams that run the ball effectively enjoy success in the red zone. That was the case for Auburn on Saturday as the Tigers cashed in both of its opportunities for touchdowns.

What are the magic numbers for the Alabama offense this week?

Three questions on Friday: 228 and 229.

The first marked LSU's rushing total in its 35-21 win over the Tigers earlier in the season. The second served as the Tigers' passing yardage total in the same game. That's the kind of balance the Crimson Tide offense is based upon.

Perhaps more important is the stat within LSU's rushing stat on Sept. 21. You know, the one about Alabama being 60-0 when it rushes for 140 yards or more in a game.

Getting to a hundred and a half against AU hasn't been a problem of late for the Crimson Tide, as it averaged 240 rushing yards per game while outscoring Auburn by a combined total of 91-14 in 2011 and 2012.

Post those kind of rushing yards again on Saturday and Auburn's hopes of extending a magical season will require more than a wing and a prayer.

Three answers on Sunday: Statistics, in this case, truly are for losers because this one had all the makings of an Alabama win. In reality, the 495 yards piled up by Alabama didn't equate to enough points.

Alabama fans won't remember the 218 yards their team rushed for on Saturday. They won't remember AJ McCarron's 277 passing yards and three touchdowns, either.

Instead, it was the inability of their offense and kicking game to step on Auburn's throat when the game was there for the taking that will haunt them the most.

They'll be tortured by the yard Yeldon couldn't pickup on third and fourth down carries from the Auburn 13 with his team leading 28-21 in the fourth quarter.

For that matter, they'll wonder why their head coach didn't opt for a 30-yard field goal attempt instead of what turned out to be Yeldon's second helping of stuffing.

They'll be saddled with memories of a successful 28-yard field goal being wiped away by a flinch of a false start by Arie Kouandjio, not to mention the three Cade Foster attempts that failed to split the uprights.

They'll be forced to watch the replay of Chris Davis' 100-yard return of UA's final miss over and over, knowing that while it may have been the play that won the game for the Tigers, Alabama really lost it a few series earlier.

If anything, the Alabama offense probably wasn't aggressive enough through the air, especially on first down. With Auburn consistently walking up a safety on early downs, McCarron took two deep shots on first down in the second half, with one of those resulting in a Amari Cooper drop in the end zone in the third quarter and the other going for a 99-yard touchdown completion from McCarron to Cooper in the fourth.

In the end, Alabama had plenty of offensive balance. What it didn't have was a championship-caliber finishing kick.

What are the magic numbers for the Alabama kicking game this week?

Three questions on Friday: 42 and 11.

Behind the right leg of senior Cody Mandell, Alabama leads the SEC in net punting at 42 yards per game. Considering that Auburn entered the week as the SEC leader in total offense (499.9 yards per game), Mandell's ability to flip the field could prove critical.

When the Crimson Tide isn't scoring points, Mandell will be asked to make the Tigers drive the length of the field against the SEC's top-ranked defense in the three statistical categories (scoring, rushing and total).

Eleven represents Cade Foster's current field goal goal streak. Since missing his first attempt of the season, the senior has made everything he's looked at.

With the SEC's top two red zone defenses on the field Saturday, both teams could be forced to attempt at a few field goals. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the last Alabama-Auburn game decided by a kick was in 1997. I won't get into the details surrounding that one.

Three answers on Sunday: After a nervy start that saw Mandell muff a perfect snap before barley getting off a line-drive punt that netted 39 yards on his first attempt, the senior performed as expected, averaging 47.3 yards per punt. Of his three punts in the game, two covered more than 50 yards.

Unfortunately for Mandell, who serves as Adam Griffith's holder, the lasting memory of his final Iron Bowl will be one of coming up short on a tackle attempt of Davis on his winning return.

Speaking of lasting memories, Saturday couldn't have gone much worse for Foster. What looked to be the latest feel-good story involving an Alabama kicker who bounced back from earlier disappointments to go out on a high note (see: Leigh Tiffin and Brian Bostick) ended up reading like a Stephen King novel instead.

Still, don't make the common (and lazy) mistake of assigning entire blame to a kicker. This one goes on everyone involved, starting with Saban before moving down to assistants and players.

There were plenty of missed opportunities in other facets of Saturday's game, including a reoccurring theme in the defensive backfield.

Seriously, how could Alabama find itself in the final game of the regular season and still be without a competitive option at the corner spot opposite Deion Belue?

Offensively, how can a unit that is so devastatingly efficient for 28 minutes of a half become so disjointed and tentative in the final two? Why the fear of failure in those situations, especially with a veteran quarterback and a slew of talented receivers on hand to work with?

With no championship games to ponder, there will be plenty of time to weigh those questions and others in the coming weeks and months.

Right now, it's about coming to grips with the end of a run for all-time. And if the reality of that isn't harsh enough for Alabama fans, wait until the thought of life after guys like AJ McCarron and CJ Mosley begins to really sink in.

Friday's prediction: Alabama 30, Auburn 16.
Saturday's score: Auburn 34, Alabama 28.

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