Three matchups to watch: Auburn

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Adam Sparks | Staff Photographer

Kamryn ‘Bubba’ Pettway (36) runs for an Auburn touchdown in the first half. Auburn vs Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 29 in Oxford, MS. Photo credit: Adam Sparks

Jack Fader

Vanderbilt heads to Auburn this Saturday for an SEC inter-divisional battle with the No. 9 Tigers. Here are three matchups to watch on the field as the ‘Dores hope to upset Auburn as big underdogs.

Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway vs. Vanderbilt rush defense

Auburn sophomore running back Kamryn Pettway has been one of the surprises of the season in the college football world. Since sitting out the opener against Clemson, Pettway has compiled the most yards on the ground out of any SEC running back, despite sitting out a second game due to injury. Last week, Pettway rushed for a career high 236 yards in Auburn’s victory at Ole Miss. He has been the catalyst for the Auburn offense, as head coach Gus Malzahn’s system works best when it is gaining chunks of yards on the ground in a hurry.

In its last SEC game, Vanderbilt’s defense allowed only 75 yards on the ground to a talented Georgia running back corps. While Georgia’s offensive line pales in comparison to Auburn’s, Vanderbilt has a great chance at winning if it can stop Pettway at the point of attack for only a yard or two. Forcing Auburn quarterback Sean White to beat them through the air would be a win for the Vandy defense.

Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur vs. Auburn secondary

Auburn’s rush defense has been among the best in the country this entire season, but its secondary was exposed last week at Ole Miss. Rebel quarterback Chad Kelly threw for an Ole Miss record 465 yards and three touchdowns in the losing effort. This could be a major opportunity to break out for Kyle Shurmur. Vanderbilt goes into this game as major underdogs, but if Shurmur can channel some of the success Kelly had in the quick passing game, Vanderbilt should be able to move down the field.

Vanderbilt red-zone offense vs. Auburn red-zone defense

Vanderbilt, for all of its struggles on offense, has been extremely efficient in the red zone so far this year. The Commodores have scored on 25 of 26 trips to the red zone this year, including 18 touchdowns. Conversely, the Tigers have the 15th-ranked red zone defense in the country, allowing a score just over 75 percent of the time. For Vanderbilt to have a chance to win this game, it not only has to continue its scoring ways in the red zone, but it needs to score touchdowns in those trips. Field goals will not be enough to win this game in Auburn, so Vanderbilt’s offense must outsmart the Auburn defense in an area where both teams excel. This will likely come down to execution and coaching, and Vanderbilt will need both to pull off the upset.