Alabama-Auburn game features SEC's top 2 runners
AUBURN, Ala. (AP)
Perhaps Auburn's Mike Dyer can simply shine on the national scene once again.
The tailbacks are the Southeastern Conference's top two rushers going into Saturday's Iron Bowl, but they haven't exactly shared the spotlight this season.
That's shined squarely on Richardson, especially since South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore sustained a season-ending injury. The star for the second-ranked Crimson Tide is a finalist for the Maxwell and Doak Walker awards, but insists he's not banking on using this game to boost his credentials for those honors or the Heisman.
''I don't think of the Heisman race when it comes to this,'' Richardson said. ''I'm just worried about this ballgame here. I just know when I do get out there I have to showcase everything I've got.''
He and Dyer are powerful, compact runners who have both been the centerpieces of their offenses. They're both having pretty good years, too.
Richardson has run for 1,380 yards and 20 touchdowns, joining former Heisman-winning quarterbacks Cam Newton and Tim Tebow as the only SEC players to score that many in a season.
Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof said Richardson is ''on a very short list'' of top runners he has faced.
''I've either played against or coached against some great backs, but he breaks a lot of tackles and he's a guy we've got to control,'' Roof said
Dyer is no slouch.
He has gained 1,194 yards and 10 touchdowns - on seven fewer carries - while running behind a patchwork offensive line. The offensive MVP of the national championship game as a freshman, he's the first Auburn running back to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Few outside the state have really noticed as the Tigers have fallen from the rankings and struggled offensively. He has earned the respect of Tide coach Nick Saban, though.
''I think he is an outstanding running back,'' Saban said. ''Probably as good as anybody that we've played against this year. I think he has played really well. Maybe his numbers aren't what they were a year ago or whatever ... but I just think the guy is a really good back.''
The disparity of attention has much to do with the teams' success on the field, but personalities have something to do with it, too.
Dyer has been far more reticent publicly since last season than the affable Richardson.
''I just play football and just do what I can do for Auburn with a good attitude,'' Dyer said. ''Whatever the world or people think, that's up to them. They're allowed to think that way.''
A big on-the-field difference between the two is their production as receivers. Dyer has two catches for 7 yards, while Richardson's 322 yards and 26 receptions rank second on the Tide.
The Auburn back will face a much bigger challenge Saturday against the nation's top defense. Richardson takes on a defense that is giving up 193 rushing yards a game.
''I take that as a personal challenge that we want Mike to rush for more than Trent, but we've just got to go out and play,'' Tigers guard Jon Sullen said.
Auburn has stuffed 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram in the past two Iron Bowls, holding him to a combined 69 yards on 26 carries.
Ingram had just 30 yards on 16 carries in his Heisman season.
''Two years ago, they stopped Ingram,'' Tigers sophomore defensive end Corey Lemonier said. ''Who says we can't do it again?''
The Tide has another formidable between-the-tackles runner in backup Eddie Lacy, who has run for 625 yards while averaging 7.8 per carry. They run behind a line led by center William Vlachos and left tackle Barrett Jones, a finalist for the Outland Trophy.
Alabama is averaging a league-high 220.5 yards on the ground and has run for 32 touchdowns, twice as many as Auburn.
Tigers coach Gene Chizik figures the primary defensive challenge is pretty straightforward: Line up and stop the power runs.
''They've got a stable of running backs and they've got an offensive line that will knock you off the ball,'' Chizik said. ''It's no secret: They want to run the football and they want to play-action off the run and they're really, really good at it.''
The Tigers are vulnerable to power runners. Two weeks ago, Georgia abused Auburn for 304 yards on the ground, including a pair of 100-yard rushers in a 45-7 win.
This test might be even tougher.
''As a defensive football coach,'' Roof said, ''that's your worst nightmare, a team that can run the ball on you because that's a headache that doesn't go away.''