Kirk Herbstreit thinks Alabama's Jalen Hurts, Auburn's defense key to Iron Bowl

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Auburn's last two victories against Alabama were the product of unforgettable moments. Cam Newton's comeback in 2010. The "Kick Six" in 2013.

Now, the Tigers have another chance to topple the Crimson Tide at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday in the latest installment of the Iron Bowl. The SEC West title and a trip to the SEC championship game against Georgia on Dec. 2 are on the line this time. If Auburn wants to knock Alabama off gain, then ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit knows where to look first.

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"It's going to start with their defense," Herbstreit told Sporting News on Tuesday. "Their defense had such a great game against Georgia. It will take that kind of performance again."

Auburn (9-2, 6-1) SEC routed Georgia 40-17 on Nov. 11 with a dominant performance. The Tigers limited the Bulldogs to 46 rushing yards on 32 attempts. The defense loaded up on quarterback Jake Fromm, and the victory snowballed from there. Herbstreit, however, said Alabama (11-0, 7-0) presents a far more difficult challenge. 

"This time around, I would say you load up against this running game, but you've got to contain Jalen Hurts," Herbstreit said. "To me, he's the whole key to the game if you're Auburn. … If Bama wins the game we'll look back and Jalen Hurts will have made three or four plays and you'll say, ‘Damn. How did he do that?'"

Hurts is 16-0 as a starter in SEC play, including last year's conference championship game. The sophomore has 1,828 passing yards with 14 touchdowns and one interception, along with 686 rushing yards and eight more scores. He has won on the road at every SEC West school so far, and Auburn is the last stop. Alabama ranks ninth in the FBS with 270.3 rushing yards per game. Auburn is 18th at 244.0 yards per game. That's the other key for the Tigers. 

"Find ways to get Kerryon Johnson in space," Herbstreit said. "He's one of the most dynamic backs in the country — not just the SEC. What kind of game is he going to have against a Bama defense that has been talked about a lot? That will be the key to keeping Jarrett Stidham out of those third-and-7s and third-and-8s. … That and how the defense stops Jalen Hurts.

"Those will be the keys to deciding the outcome."

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If Auburn can do those things, then there will be another big headline after the Iron Bowl to go along with 2010 and 2013.

Herbstreit is partnered with Allstate through his "All Hands In" campaign, which features the #allhandsin pick of the week #sweettalk initiative to promote friendly interaction with fan bases. This week, Herbstreit and other volunteers will help build a local outdoor playground before the Auburn-Alabama game. Follow #allhandsin for more info. "Volunteers from both fan bases and some college football legends from both teams will be there," Herbstreit said. "It's a really cool thing to get involved in." 

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