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Auburn Football

Examining how Auburn performs against winning, losing teams

Updated on October 27, 2017 at 1:36 PM Posted on October 27, 2017 at 1:10 PM

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn talks with Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey during a timeout against Georgia Southern Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, during the first half at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.(Julie Bennett)


By James Crepea


Auburn's offense is having its least success, in terms of yards, against winning teams since 2012, while the defense is having its best performance against better competition in a decade.

Five of Auburn's six wins this season have come in blowout fashion, including all four SEC wins, but only the 49-10 rout of Mississippi State came against a team with a winning record. By comparison, both of Auburn's losses featured far less effective offensive performance, including the atrocious 117 yards and 11 sack allowed performance against Clemson that was the worst in Gus Malzahn's career and the blown 20-point lead against LSU with just 64 yards in the second half.

"Better people," offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said, "makes it harder to score."

That self-evident truth applies universally though and the total offense for No. 19 Auburn (6-2, 4-1 SEC) goes from an SEC-best 551.8 yards against four FBS non-winning teams to eighth in the conference and 86th nationally against three FBS winning teams (327.3). In terms of total offense, that's the lowest for Auburn since 2012 (261.3) and a drop of more than 50 yards per game (384) in eight games against winning teams in 2016.

In scoring, Auburn drops from 47 points per game against losing teams (tied for 11th), to 26 points (46th) against winning teams. Among SEC teams, only Mississippi State, Arkansas and Ole Miss have more stark scoring differences against winning and losing opponents.


"I think we've had some good games," Lindsey said. "I think we played well against Mississippi State from what I remember. Clemson is one of the better teams in the country. LSU is always really good on defense. It is what it is. We've just got to continue to improve. ... You play better people, it gets harder. That's just the way it is."

Conversely, Auburn's defense is performing exceptionally well no matter who the opponent is. While winning teams are gaining more yards and scoring more points, the Tigers ranking in total defense and scoring is actually higher against those teams than against losing FBS foes.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele gave credit for the across the board improvement to the players and their leadership in holding each other accountable.

"When you go on that practice field and you see guys like Tray Matthews and Tre' Williams and Deshaun Davis and Marlon Davidson, guys like that, they're after each other and other guys to do their job," Steele said. "That's the second year of the process, the second year of the standard and everybody understanding that and pushing to it. They have a passion for it.

"They've tasted some success, so they kind of like it. ... They take pride in that and you can see it in them, it means something to them."

Against winning FBS teams, Auburn is allowing 331.7 yards (12th) and 17 points (5th), its best in terms of yards since 2007 (307.5) and best in points since 2006 (16.1).

Against losing FBS teams, Auburn is allowing 295.3 yards (28th) and 16 points (32nd). The stats against losing teams include when second and third-team personnel have taken over during most of the third and fourth quarters of multiple blowouts.

Steele said the "biggest difference" has been the play of the defensive line.

"Those guys up front kind of set the tone in the run game and in pass game; they set the tone," Steele said. "But we've got a group of guys, the nucleus of the guys have been together for - this is the second year in it. It is, you're only as good as your next play; we hammer that home all the time. But the facts are that you got to keep improving; you're not going to stay the same, you either get better or you get worse. These guys have bought into that in a major way.

"They don't want to hear about, well this happened or that happened. They're holding each other - like for an example, when the young guys are in there in the fourth quarter against those three or four teams, those older guys, they were not happy that they surrendered anything. It's kind of a culture that has been developed in that room, which is really what the whole purpose of it is. Is develop that culture where the standard is so high and the expectations that each man is held accountable and responsible by each other to get their job done."

With critical games remaining against Texas A&M, No. 3 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama, Auburn has to hope it can improve its offensive production against better opponents in order to stay in contention in the SEC West.

"I think that'll be a big key to our success, especially this last four games," Malzahn said. "We're going to have to execute at a high level. Hopefully we can be healthier. I think we've had five different starting offensive line, guys up front, the last five games. Hopefully we can settle in and get our guys back. I think that'll help also with the execution."

James Crepea is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @JamesCrepea.


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