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2010 AU Tigers looking to find their stride


StatTiger
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It’s old school but I still believe the key to winning consistently is being able to run the football and stopping the opponent from running the football. During a recent interview with Coach Tracy Rocker, he spoke of what he hoped to accomplish with the new faces at defensive-end. He stressed the importance of stopping the run first and when the topic of sacking the quarterback came up, Rocker stated, “You have to stop the run first before you have the opportunity to sack the quarterback”. In terms of reaching the goal of establishing the run and stopping the run, Auburn enters the Kentucky game ranked No. 8 in run-offense and No. 12 in run-defense. It’s the primary reason why Auburn is 5-0 on the season and No. 8 in the Associated Press Poll. Of course Auburn started off 5-0 in 2009, so the key for future success will be maintaining their current rankings in run-offense and run-defense.

Utilizing the 2004 Auburn Tigers as a statistical model consider the following…

* During the 2004 season, Auburn’s run defense held their opponent to 38.1 percent below their season average. The 2010 Auburn defense is currently holding their opponent to 40.7 percent below their rushing average.

* The 2004 Auburn defense held their opponent to 4.63 yards per play and the 2010 Auburn defense has held their opponent to 4.60 yards through 5 games.

* Since 2000, the Auburn defense has held their opponent to 21.8 percent below their normal rushing average. How important is this? Auburn is currently 66-2 since 2000, when holding their opponent to 21.8 percent below their rushing average and 33-31, when they don’t.

* The 2004 Auburn offense gained 16.9 percent more yards than what their opponent normally allowed and scored 28.8 percent more points than what the opponent normally allowed. The 2010 Auburn offense is currently gaining 15.6 percent more yards than what their opponent allows and is scoring 32.2 percent more than what the opponent normally allows.

At this point, the Auburn offense and run-defense is in position to make this a memorable season but there are elements still missing. The primary element is pass-defense, which needs to be addressed to take the added pressure off the Auburn offense. Many have focused on Auburn’s pass-defense ranking, which is actually misleading. This statistical category is overrated because it’s solely based on yards per game allowed. The concern should be in pass-efficiency defense, where Auburn is currently 55th nationally.

* Auburn’s pass defense currently has a pass-efficiency rating of 122.5. During the 2004 season, Auburn’s pass defense had an efficiency rating of 110.9, which was 25th nationally. Auburn clearly must improve in this category but the goal doesn’t have to be a top-20 finish, evident by the success of the 2004 Auburn defense. If the 2010 Auburn defense, can maintain a top 15 run defense and improve to a top 35 defense in pass-efficiency, the Tigers should be just fine to go along with their explosive offense.

* The other defensive statistic that stands out when comparing the 2004 Auburn defense to the 2010 Auburn defense is touchdown ratio. Though the current Auburn defense is actually performing better than the 2004 Auburn defense in terms of yards per play, the same cannot be said about touchdown ratio. The 2004 Auburn defense allowed a touchdown every 41.1 plays and the 2010 Auburn defense is currently allowing 1 every 30.3 plays. Nothing can be changed with the 5 games already in the books but that ratio must make some type of improvement in order for the Tigers to have a shot at remaining undefeated.

The Kentucky game becomes a major showdown as Auburn takes to the road in Lexington, Kentucky. The 2010 Auburn Tigers have improved from 2009 but this is the fork in the road, the 2009 Auburn Tigers came across last season. Though the Wildcats may not be as talented, this game could be similar to when Auburn took to the road in 2004 against the Tennessee Volunteers. During that year, Auburn came home with a dominating victory (34-10) and they never looked back. Each week after the Tennessee game, Auburn played with more confidence on the field and there was no doubt; they were one of the better teams in the country. If Auburn slips up against the Wildcats for the second year in a row, everything accomplished to this point will be questioned and deservingly so. If Auburn is to make that next step to greatness, they have to beat the Kentucky’s of the college football world.

If Auburn comes away with a dominating victory, it will raise the confidence level of this Tiger squad and will show they are headed in the right direction in terms of good to great. Some of the pieces are falling into place but Auburn has plenty of work in front of them. The offense is just about in place and the run-defense is in place. Auburn must prove they can play defense in the first half, just as they have during the second half of their 5 victories. Special teams have been solid except for the punting game, which also needs to be addressed. During a 12-game regular season, special teams can make the difference in 2-3 games, especially when it comes to field position. Last season against Kentucky, Auburn started 10 of their 11 possessions at an average starting position of their own 18-yard line. Auburn managed to move the football at least 30-yards on 5 of those 11 possessions but because of poor starting field position, they were unable to cash the yardage gained into points.

The good news is that I don’t believe this team has peaked as they are still searching for their identity on defense. They have been good enough to overcome their shortcomings up to this point but championship teams always find a way of limiting their shortcomings. This is not a “do or die” game for Auburn in terms of having a successful season but it is in terms of winning a championship. This will be a tough challenge this Saturday because Kentucky has their backs to the wall and will come out swinging. On paper, Auburn is the better team but championship teams win these games on the field and when they don’t, they are reduced to mere potential and gossip around the water cooler.

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If Auburn slips up against the Wildcats for the second year in a row, everything accomplished to this point will be questioned and deservingly so. If Auburn is to make that next step to greatness, they have to beat the Kentucky’s of the college football world.

Exactly.

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I agree with almost everything that you've said here. This was a very well put together analysis, but in comparing this team to the team in 2004, you must keep not only the difference in defense in mind, but also the difference in the offenses.

In 2004, the reason that we went undefeated was our scoring defense. We lead the nation in scoring defense most of the season and finished three games very closely. LSU: 10-9 Alabama: 21-13 and Va. Tech: 16-13

We also only put up 24 on UGA. This was also a year in which Arkansas, Miss State, and Kentucky were not very good as we blew them out of the water quite easily.

Tennessee was the only team that we dominated in surprising fashion that year and that was mostly due to a masterful outlier of a game on the part of Junior Rosegreen (3 INT's?).

I'm not saying that we didn't have a great offense in 2004. There's no doubt that we had the best backfield in college football that year and most likely the best backfield in Auburn history. That backfield, in essence, gave us three basic options: Power running through the middle with Ronnie Brown, speed and finesse attack on the corners with Cadillac, and a reliable mid-range passing attack with Campbell (we certainly busted out some nice bombs on the season that helped us win games, but it was never a sure thing).

This year, I think our offense has more options. Dyer is not 2004 Ronnie Brown, but he can produce yardage up the middle, McCalebb is not Cadillac but he can effectively hit the corners before the linebackers know what's happening, and both of those are made possible by the running threat of Newton. Of course, Newton also has some very VERY reliable receivers that he has no problem hitting as he leads one of the most efficient passing attacks in the nation.

The difference is Cam Newton's feet. If Jason Campbell had the ability to run like Cam Newton, we wouldn't be having this argument, but he didn't. He didn't need to either because we had such a dominant defense. But this year, the balance shifts slightly more in favor of the offense. So even though we don't stop as much as the 2004 no-name defense, we make up for it with a more dangerous offense.

Of course, having said that, I think that passing defense is something that they will be working on very hard for the second half of the season and the more we see it improve, the more likely we are to enjoy a nice trip to Atlanta.

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