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  1. Post Season Numbers & Thoughts: During the first 7 games of the season the Auburn defense allowed 5.88 yards per play during the first-half and 4.21 yards per play during the second-half. During the final 6 games of the season, the Auburn defense allowed 5.97 yards per play during the first-half and 6.76 yards per play during the second-half. During the first 7 games of the season, 49.0% of the snaps defended by the Auburn defense during the first-half, went for 2-yards or less. It increased to 55.6% during the second half of games. During the last 6 games of the season, 43.7% of the snaps defended by the Auburn defense during the first-half, went for 2-yards or less. It decreased to 42.9% during the second half. The top-5 play-makers on offense this season based on impact-plays were: Cameron Artis Payne (26), Duke Williams (22), Nick Marshall (20), Sammie Coates (14) and Quan Bray (12). Injuries to Williams and Coates took away from Auburn's explosiveness this season. During the first 6 games of the season, Nick Marshall averaged 82.0 yards rushing per game on 6.6 yards per attempt. During the final 7 games of the season, Marshall averaged only 43.7 yards per rush on 3.9 yards per carry. The read-option was nowhere close to last season. During the final 7 games of the 2013 season, Marshall & Mason averaged 257.6 YPG on 6.09 YPC. During the final 7 games of 2014, Marshall & CAP combined for 179.3 YPG on 4.92 YPC. Ricardo Louis is a player to watch for in 2015. With the departure of Sammie Coates, Auburn will need him to become a consistent playmaker. During the first 6 games of the season, Louis had 15 offensive touches for 118-yards. During the final 7 games of the season, Louis had 22 offensive touches for 353-yards. Of his 9 impact plays on the season, 7 came during the second-half of the season. Duke Williams was No. 12 nationally in generating pass-receptions of 15-yards or more and Sammie Coates was No. 21. The Auburn offense simply wasn't the same without both healthy and on the field together. During Auburn's 8 victories this season, the Tigers compiled a pass-rating of 157.1 on first-down and only 117.2 during their 5 defeats. From 1992-2014 Auburn has compiled a pass-rating of 136.0 on first-down and was only 134.9 in 2014. Of Auburn's 332 passes on the season, only 96 (28.6%) came on first down, which was dead last nationally. The national average was 37.9%, which means Nick Marshall was forced to throw more often when the opponent wanted him to, rather than when Malzahn wanted him to throw. I expect that percentage to change drastically with Jeremy Johnson at quarterback. In terms of the game day report cards, the Auburn offense had a passing grade in 11 of 13 games, the defense 6 in 13 games and special teams, 7 of 13 games. Last season the offense had a passing grade in 12 of 14 games, the defense 7 of 14 games and special teams 13 of 14 games. Overall the offense improved to 74.9% from 74.6% in 2013. The defense dropped to 47.7% from 49.3% in 2013 and special teams took the biggest dive to 53.4% from 71.7% in 2013. During the last 3 games of the season Auburn allowed 3.93 yards per rush during the first-half and 7.58 yards per attempt during the second-half. How vital are impact plays? During Auburn's 73 scoring drives this season, 63 involved at least 1 play of 15-yards or more during the possession. Last season the Auburn defense registered 32 sacks and 13 interceptions. This season despite only 20 sacks, Auburn intercepted 22 passes. One can only imagine how many picks Auburn could have totaled in 2014 with a more consistent pass-rush. During the first 5 games of the season, the Auburn defense forced a "3 & out", 45 percent of the time. During the final 8 games of the season, it dropped to only 18 percent. During the first 5 games of the season, the Auburn defense allowed 24-yards per possession and a TD every 37.2 snaps. During the final 8 games of the season, the defense allowed 36-yards per possession and a TD every 16.6 snaps defended. During the first 7 games of the season, Auburn scored 75 points from their opponent's turnovers. During the final 6 games of the season, Auburn scored only 24 points off of turnovers. Rarely does a player find immediate success after making a position change at the collegiate level. Johnathan "Rudy" Ford moved to safety this season, finishing the year as Auburn's leading tackler with 93 stops. He also had 2.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions and 1 forced-fumble. Look for him to continue to grow into his position under Will Muschamp. Rudy Ford was No. 14 in the SEC with 7.15 tackles per game. Cassanova McKinzy was No. 16 and Kris Frost was No. 17. McKinzy was also No. 14 in the SEC with 11 tackles for loss. Fifteen SEC defensive linemen had more tackles for loss than Auburn's leader, Montravius Adams (8). Cameron Artis-Payne had some major shoes to fill, replacing Tre Mason. The senior RB, responded with an All-SEC season, leading the conference in rushing and No. 2 in rushing TD's. CAP's 123.7 yards per game was the 5th best average in school history. Cameron Artis-Payne was No. 15 nationally in yards per game. Quarterback Nick Marshall improved his passer-rating from 143.2 in 2013 to 150.8. His 150.8 rating is the 4th highest rated performance among the 37 Auburn quarterbacks to attempt at least 150 passes during a season. His TD ratio of 1 every 14.6 attempts was 5th best in school history. Marshall was No. 33 in pass-efficiency during 2013, improving to No. 15 his senior year. The Auburn offense finished No. 13 in run-offense and No. 9 in pass-efficiency offense. The Tigers were No. 17 in total-offense and No. 26 in scoring-offense. Based on yards per game, yards per play, points per game, TD ratio and strength of schedule, the 2014 Auburn offense is No. 3 among the past 60 Auburn offensive units. The 2010 offense was No. 1 with a 213.5 rating, the 2013 offense was No. 2 with a 209.9 rating and the 2014 unit had a rating of 199.6. From 1970-2014, Auburn has compiled a record of 204-6-0, when scoring at least 30 points during regulation. Four of the 6 losses have come during the past 2 seasons. From 2009-2014 (79 games), Auburn has allowed 26 PPG, 398.3 YPG and 163.2 yards rushing per game. Of those 79 games, it includes 26 losses, where Auburn allowed 36 PPG, 446.5 YPG and 222.6 yards rushing per game. The second installment of Will Muschamp's defense cannot start soon enough. The 2014 season marks the 12th time Auburn has closed a season with only 1 win during their last 5 games of the season since 1950. The Auburn coaching staff has their work cut out for them as Auburn followed up the previous 11 seasons with a win percentage of .622 the following year. Looking at only FBS competition, Auburn's 2014 schedule ended up being the 6th most difficult in school history, minus the result of the "Auburn" game. 10 of Auburn's 13 opponents this season (76.9%) were FBS programs that finished the season with a winning record. It was the 3rd highest percentage of winning opponents faced during a season from 1950-2014. The 1983 team holds the highest percentage (83.3%). So what happened to the 2014 Auburn defense? During the first 5 games of the season, Auburn faced opponents that averaged 402.0 YPG, averaging 30.4 PPG. The Auburn defense held them to 24% below their yardage average and 53% below their scoring average. During their last 7 FBS games, Auburn faced offenses that averaged 463.3 YPG, while scoring 35.1 PPG. Auburn allowed those 7 teams to gain 5.5% more yardage than their average, while scoring 7.7% more than the opponent's average. In a nutshell, the competition was better during the second-half of the season, but Auburn's production percentages should not have collapsed as much as it did. Time to move onto 2015 and Happy New Year!
  2. Over the years I have noticed a trend in many of the Auburn seasons that were special. Most of them were followed up by average or slightly above average seasons. Now there are numerous factors involved such as the loss of key starters, the loss of a large senior class or a quality senior class. A noticeable trend I picked up on was the number of close ball games during the special season. If there were at least 5 close games during the special season, the odds of a major fall off the following year increased. Check out the numbers... 1972 (10-1) The Tigers were 5-0 in games decided by 7-points that year. They went 6-6 the next year. 1983 (11-1) The Tigers were 5-0 in close games and went 9-4 the following year. 1997 (10-3) The Tigers were 4-1 in close games and went 3-8 the following year. 2006 (11-2) The Tigers were 5-0 in close games and went 9-4 the following year. 2010 (14-0) The Tigers were 6-0 in close games and went 8-5 the following year. 2013 (12-2) The Tigers were 5-1 in close games and are currently 8-3 this year. Of the six teams listed above, 4 of them lost their starting quarterback the following year. The above teams competed in 77 games with 32 being decided by 7-points or less (41.5%). The Tigers were 30-2 during the close games. The follow up teams combined for a record of 43-30 (.589). Now look at other 10-win seasons that did not involve as many close games... 1986 (10-2) 1-2 in close games and went 9-1-2 the following year. 1987 (9-1-2) 0-0-2 in close games and went 10-2 the following year. 1988 (10-2) 1-2 in close games and went 10-2 the following year. 1989 (10-2) 2-1 in close games and went 8-3-1 the following year. 1993 (11-0) 3-0 in close games and went 9-1-1 the following year. 2004 (13-0) 2-0 in close games and went 9-3 the following year. Only 16 close games combined out of 72 (22.2%) followed by a better follow up season. The follow up teams combined for a record of 55-12-4 (.803). As great as the 2010 and 2013 seasons were, these teams were not "complete" teams like the 2004 squad. The 2004 team was solid in every phase of the game, which cannot be said about 2010 and 2013. The 2010 and 2013 teams were talented enough to get by in many close games but paid the price the following seasons with the loss of several key starters. The 2004 team was more soundly built, which prevented them from being involved in too many close games. The carry over from this sound structure, gave them a better chance of competing the following year. There were personnel losses to overcome like any other year but the nucleus was present for the 2005 squad to be competitive. We witnessed this same process more extensively under Pat Dye. His run from 1982-1989 was an indicator of a sound program than a few isolated special seasons. I touched on this after the 2013 season was completed. Gus Malzahn and his staff did a great job of putting together a team that was very competitive but this isn't the same as building a competitive program. The 2013 team had enough key contributors across the board to allow them to be competitive that year. Take some of those contributors away the following year and what happens? Did Auburn find someone to replace Greg Robinson, Dee Ford, Tre Mason, Chris Davis and Jay Prosch? Cameron Artis-Payne was the closest. What about the kickers from 2013? Special teams really went south in 2014, which had something to do with the kicker and punter. To his credit, Daniel Carlson has been solid this season but punting has been a different story. Add to the mix, the loss of Carl Lawson and Alex Kozan before the 2014 season started and Auburn was facing key personnel obstacles. Building a program that allows you to replace actual "star" talent on the field and not just on recruiting paper is two different things. This takes more time, which is why we as fans should be patient in this regard. The 2013 team had enough front-line players to compete with anyone but the depth and supporting cast was a different story, which we can clearly see in 2014. I'm not advocating that Gus Malzahn has what it takes to build a sound "program" but in fairness, it is way too early to say that he cannot. After Pat Dye went 11-1 in 1983, he followed up with two 4-loss seasons, before he went on his 1986-1989 run. Malzahn deserves the same opportunity to build his program.
  3. If Auburn is to defeat Georgia this Saturday, the Tigers will need to play better run-defense than they did the last two meetings with the Bulldogs. During the 2011 game, Georgia rushed for 304-yards and last season Auburn surrendered 289-yards on the ground. During the last 25 meetings between the two schools, the team with the most rushing yardage is 20-4-1. The Auburn defense comes into the game allowing 157-yards rushing per game and 189-yards to conference opponents. If Georgia can establish a consistent running threat, it will be difficult to apply pressure on Aaron Murray. On this play Auburn is set to defend the Volunteer's read-option play. At the snap Tennessee will double up on Gabe Wright, leaving Kenneth Carter 1 on 1 with the LG. Carl Lawson positions himself to defend the QB-keep, forcing the QB to make the inside give to the RB. Once the give to the RB is made, Cassanova McKinzy attacks the "A" gap as Kenneth Carter makes penetration into the backfield. Carter makes the initial play on the RB in the backfield as McKinzy arrives to help finish off the play. It is vital the Auburn front-4 plays physical against Georgia, keeping their OL off the LB's. Some of Auburn's issues on run-defense have been poor run-fits, where defenders lose control of their gap responsibilities. Though aggressive play is important, it needs to be controlled aggression or it results in blown assignments and subsequent big plays for the opposition.
  4. Aaron Murray is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in conference history and his three previous starts against Auburn produced highly efficient numbers and results. Though Auburn sacked him 7 times and hurried him 17 other times during the last 3 meetings, Murray has thrown 10 TD passes against the Tigers with no interceptions. Auburn must find a way of applying pressure on the senior quarterback this Saturday or he will likely have a fourth consecutive efficient game against Auburn. On this play Auburn knows Tennessee is going to pass with only 15 seconds remaining in the first half and the Volunteers attempting move within FG range. Auburn rushes only 4 but Carl Lawson is lined up wide outside to take on the LT 1 on 1. The Volunteers LT is Antonio Richardson, a Preseason All-SEC performer with 22 starts under his belt. At the snap Tennessee doubles up on Auburn's DT's as Carl Lawson commits to a speed-rush. The RB assists the RT to double up on LaDarius Owens. Lawson beats the LT on the edge and is able to loop over the top of the quarterback. As Lawson makes contact with the quarterback from behind, he chops the football loose. Tennessee recovers the fumble but the sack results in Tennessee deciding to let the half expire. If Georgia has consistent success running the football it will hinder and slow down the Auburn pass-rush. It will be essential that the Tigers at least apply pressure during obvious passing situations. Georgia is No. 22 nationally in preventing sacks this season.
  5. In a follow up to the Jake Holland spotlight, Cassanova McKinzy is spotlighted on this play. Once again Arkansas runs from a 2-TE set and an I-formation. On this play Arkansas is at the Auburn 24-yard line with a 1st & 5. The Razorbacks will attempt to run out of an I-formation with a 2-TE set. This time around, Auburn has 8 men in the box to defend the run. At the snap Kris Frost attempts to shoot throw the "B" gap but is engaged by the FB. As the RB takes the hand off from the QB, Carl Lawson beats his man, penetrating the backfield, forcing the RB to stay inside of the tackles. Cassanova McKinzy shoots through the gap, hitting the RB at the line of scrimmage. The RB attempts to spin away from McKinzy's initial contact but McKinzy wraps up his legs until additional defenders arrive to finish off the play. Arkansas rushed for 139-yards during the first half and 83 during the second-half.
  6. As poorly as Arkansas has performed this season, the Razorback running game has been solid this season. Arkansas is No. 4 in the SEC in rushing with nearly 210-yards per game. Auburn's defense has improved as the season has progressed but will face a stiff challenge stopping the Razorback running game. During Auburn's first 2 SEC games of the season, the Tigers allowed 5.12 yards per rush. During Auburn's last 2 SEC games, the Tigers held their opponent to 3.25 yards per rush. On this play FAU is backed up at their own goal line and will run their zone-read to move away from their own end zone. At the snap Montravius Adams is double-teamed as the FAU quarterback attempts to read Carl Lawson's reaction to the zone-read. Lawson does a great job of freezing at the line, not committing to either run-option. At the same time Kenneth Carter obtains great pad-level on the LT, which allows him to penetrate the backfield through the "B" gap. The quarterback makes the inside give to the RB, who is immediately hit by Kenneth Carter. Carl Lawson does a great job of fending off the TE to assist on the tackle. The FAU running back made enough forward progress to make it out of the end zone, avoiding a near safety. This is the type of play Auburn will need against the Arkansas OL to limit the Razorback running game. Coach Garner's consistent rotation of his DL should allow the Auburn defense to remain fresh throughout the game.
  7. One of the keys to success in Auburn's pass-defense this year has been the combination of solid secondary play and a more consistent pass-rush. We have seen more tight and press coverage this season by the Auburn secondary with great results. On the occasions Ellis Johnson has gone with tight coverage, it has allowed additional time for the DL to apply pressure on the opposing quarterback. On this play Carl Lawson is able to record a sack because Auburn went with press-coverage across the board. Many of the pass-plays by the Ole Miss offense were designed to be quick-developing and underneath routes. This allows their quarterback to make a quick-read and deliver the ball quickly. When Auburn went with tight coverage off the line, it often eliminated the shorter routes, forcing Bo Wallace to hold the ball longer than anticipated. This was the case on this play as Wallace was forced to hold the ball longer than he would have liked. Carl Lawson beats his man with a speed-rush and is able to loop over the pocket. The pass-protection was actually solid for Wallace but the tight coverage forced Wallace to leave the pocket in search of an open receiver. The additional time Wallace held the ball allowed Lawson the time to run him down from behind for the sack.
  8. Coach Ellis Johnson had his DE's in a 2-point stance numerous times during the game to defend against the Ole Miss zone-read play. Having his DE's standing up, gave them better vision in the backfield, which positioned them into a better angle of attack. Bo Wallace and Jeff Scott combined for 23 carries for 58-yards on the night and 52 of those yards came on 1 play. The Auburn defense did a great job defending the zone-read play, which was the heart of the Ole Miss rushing attack. On this play Ole Miss is set to run their zone-read play. In frame #2, Bo Wallace attempts to read Carl Lawson but Lawson doesn't commit inside or outside, forcing the decision back onto to the Ole Miss QB. Bo Wallace elects to keep the ball and run inside of Lawson but Lawson is too quick for this to happen. Carl Lawson wraps the QB up as Nosa Eguae knifes through the LT to help finish off the quarterback. Also notice in frame #2 how LaDarius Owens on the opposite side, patiently plays the back side in the event the QB were to take the play outside. Carl Lawson clearly has the speed and strength to be an impressive pass-rusher but his performance defending the run was special. Younger DE's often are caught out of position because they rush up field or over pursue plays but this wasn't the case for Lawson.
  9. One of the areas Auburn's defense has improved on this season is tackles for loss. This was a trademark of an Ellis Johnson defense and we are already seeing his influence on the defense. Last season the Auburn defense was No. 68 nationally in tackles for loss (ratio) and are currently No. 48 through 4 games. Because the defense is still struggling in terms of yards allowed, the Tigers can offset this deficiency with tackles for loss and forced-turnovers. On this play LSU will attempt a play-action pass against the Auburn defense. LSU elects to double up on the two DT's, leaving a RB to block Carl Lawson. This is a huge gamble as Lawson easily beats the RB, forcing the quarterback to step up into the pocket. Coverage is good on the play, allowing Jake Holland to close on the scrambling quarterback. Holland makes the initial contact with the QB, wrapping him up until Lawson and Gabe Wright arrive to finish off the quarterback. We have seen Ellis Johnson become more aggressive in his schemes as the game progresses. During the first half of their 3 BCS games, Auburn has held the opponent to 2-yards or less 42% of the time. During the second-half, it increases to 52%
  10. The Auburn coaches have high expectations for DE Carl Lawson this season and he has responded with glimpses of being a standout performer. With the early loss of Dee Ford, Auburn's ends have needed to step up, including Lawson. Through 2 games the DE's have accounted for 24 tackles, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks and 11 QB hurries. On this play ASU has already moved into Auburn territory with a 1st & 10 from the Tiger 46-yard line. At the snap, Carl Lawson dips on the LT's inside shoulder but bursts to the right to motor around the LT. Because the LT initially responded to the initial inside move, he becomes off balanced as Lawson beats him outside on a speed-rush. (Note in Image #1 how much the LT is off balance (footwork) from Lawson's initial move inside.) After beating the LT, Carl Lawson has a blindside shot on the quarterback. As he makes contact with the QB, Lawson chops his passing arm, jolting the football loose. Jake Holland was initially responsible for the RB but switches his responsibility towards the QB after the RB remains in the backfield for pass-protection. The fumbled ball rolls forward out of the backfield as Holland slides in to make the fumble recovery. The turnover sets up Auburn's final touchdown of the game.