AUBURN — As the Auburn Tigers head to Tuscaloosa for the 77th edition of the Iron Bowl, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is taking advantage of the extra practice time while players are out of class for Thanksgiving break. Loeffler said Alabama, which is second in the nation in total defense at 240 yards a game, will be the offense's toughest test this season.
"Absolutely," Loeffler said. "That's not to downplay the LSU defense, the Georgias of the world. But this is a big, powerful, stout front. They play great team defense, they play together as a unit. The linebackers are young and talented, and I think it's an exceptionally well-coached secondary."
Auburn has relied on the run game in its three wins this season, but will have its work to do Saturday. The Crimson Tide have the nation's third-ranked rush defense, holding opponents to 75.6 yards a game, and are limiting runners to 2.3 yards per carry.
"The rush defense stats in our conference are unbelievable," Loeffler said. "They're stopping the run. If you watched how LSU and Texas A&M were moving the ball, they had to put it in the air. That's the formula."
LSU and Texas A&M are the only teams Alabama has allowed to gain more than 300 yards on offense this season. LSU threw for 296 yards in Alabama's 21-17 narrow victory in Baton Rouge, La., on Nov. 3. A week later, the Aggies threw for 253 yards to give the Tide their only loss of the season.
Head coach Gene Chizik said he will use those two games as a blueprint for the Auburn offense.
"I think you certainly put a lot of time invested into the teams that have moved the ball or forced turnovers or things of that nature," Chizik said. "That game is definitely one you want to study. The LSU game is another one that you want to do the same. Obviously, the LSU game was a very close game, and LSU was able to move the ball better than most, as A&M was as well. You definitely look at those to see what they were able to do."
Texas A&M burned Alabama with the no-huddle offense in its 29-24 win over the then-top-ranked Tide. The Aggies jumped out to a 20-0 lead in their first three possessions, and Loeffler kept his cards close to the vest when asked if he would employ the no-huddle Saturday.
"We'll see," Loeffler said.
With Alabama dominating opposing run offenses, there will almost certainly be a heavier burden placed on the passing game and freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace in his first road start. Wallace has completed 62 percent of his passes for 649 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions this season.
In six quarters of SEC action, Wallace has thrown for 314 yards with two touchdowns and a pick while running for 75 yards. Loeffler said he is stressing to Wallace to have a short memory.
"He's going to have a heck of an experience," Loeffler said. "It's loud, it's hostile, and on top of that, you're playing a great defense. You've got to make sure he understands he needs to worry about just that play only. He doesn't need to worry about (whether) we're up seven points or down seven points, he just needs to have 100 percent concentration on just that play and worry about what he can control."