There are two guys who are more important than anyone else for Auburn when it comes to defeating Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game.
They are not defenders. Florida State is going to move the ball all game long on the Tigers' defense no matter what happens, so even if a couple of guys play out of their minds, FSU will get its yards and points.
It's not Nick Marshall or any of the receivers. They're going to be important of course, as AU will need some big play action passes to keep up during this one. They can't be missing open guys or dropping passes, but they're not the lynchpins of the whole effort.
One of them is not even Tre Mason, Auburn's Heisman finalist running back. He's certainly up there in the top five most important guys, but he can't go it alone.
No, the two guys that are the most important to Auburn's effort are Alex Kozan and Chad Slade. They're the starting guards on the Tigers' offensive line.
It's not accurate to say that Florida State blew out every opponent from the opening kick. In particular, the team had some real trouble with Boston College. The Eagles went up 17-3 in the first half, and their 14-point margin of defeat was the slimmest of any of Florida State's opponents this season to date. It could have been even closer had Chase Rettig not thrown a goal line interception with about two minutes to go.
The architect of BC's offense is Steve Addazio. He's an old-school option guy, and with his background as an offensive line coach, he pays close attention to what the big uglies up front are doing.
Early in that game, BC actually did a lot of stuff that is reminiscent of what Auburn does. The Eagles used a lot of what some folks dismissively call "window dressing": pre-snap motion, faking the jet sweep, handing off on the jet sweep, misdirection, throwback passes, and so forth. They didn't run much option, as you really shouldn't with Rettig as your trigger man, but moving the quarterback around here and there caused some problems. The Eagles even ran a close variant of the buck sweep, one of Gus Malzahn's favorite plays. It worked very well for a little over a quarter until Addazio gave into his vices of milquetoast inside runs and slow developing four- and five-wide passing plays, and it worked pretty well again as he went back to that stuff late in the game.
The running plays that worked best throughout the game were the ones in which the guards pulled. That is where Kozan and Slade come in. They must be able to execute their pulls and blocks flawlessly. If they can pick up their second level targets and seal the running lanes, Auburn will have a good chance to pull out a win here. If not, it's very unlikely that the rest of everything will be good enough to get AU the win.
You see, there was another team on FSU's schedule that does some similar things to what Auburn does: Clemson. Those Tigers turned the ball over a couple times early that led to a 17-0 deficit late in the first quarter. That hole, combined with the high level that FSU's offense plays with, forced the team to become very one-dimensional. Clemson never could get much going, and the game ended up another big FSU win. Part of that was Tajh Boyd having an off night, but the FSU defense didn't help him out any. Lead back Roderick McDowell had a nice 5.5 YPC average without a huge gainer to skew it, but he only had 11 carries.
As someone who wants to see FSU lose, it worries me to hear what I heard on one of the Solid Verbal's BCS podcasts. USA Today's George Schroeder said that a couple of guys from Auburn's side told him apropos of nothing that Marshall is a really good passer. They've been running so much because they haven't had to pass, but if they need to, they can do it with him. It worries me, because that sounds like the words of a team planning to prove a point about passing tonight. Clemson has a much better passing attack than Auburn does, and it was ineffective against FSU's defense.
The most likely outcome is a blowout FSU win. Auburn is more talented than Boston College is, so that gives some hope, but it will be at a decided disadvantage there in this game. Its defense gives up a lot of big plays, and FSU is tremendous at making big plays. Jimbo Fisher built his program from the Nick Saban mold, but while AU already defeated Saban himself, this team from Tallahassee is certainly better on offense and is not much—if any—of a drop off on defense.
The likeliest outcome doesn't always happen, so I haven't closed the door entirely on a potential Auburn win. I just wouldn't bet on it.
Pick: Florida State 48, Auburn 28