The Iron Bowl – Insights from the LSU and Ole Miss Games & How Auburn Can Win

Here’s the final Iron Bowl post of the week.  Once again, the Notorious PAB is back at it again with a look at how Alabama and Auburn fared against common foes LSU and Ole Miss.  Additionally, PAB tries to conjure up a way Auburn could win this game.  For more on the Notorious PAB, please see the postscript below.

Looking Ahead to the Iron Bowl –

Insights from the LSU and Ole Miss Games

Introduction

In our final post before the 2016 Iron Bowl, we’ll look at Bama’s and Auburn’s games against common SEC West opponents LSU and Ole Miss. But first, let’s review the current AP Top 25 Poll and College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings.

AP Top 25 Poll and CFP Rankings

AP Top 25 Poll

Bama’s (11-0 overall, 7-0 SEC) pride of place in the current AP poll – Week 13, released Nov. 20 – is unblemished: ranked #1; 61 of 61 first-place votes; and 100% of possible points (1525). “It doesn’t get better than that” is not saying enough. It simply CAN’T be better – no way, no how.

Auburn (8-3 overall, 5-2 SEC), is in the #16 slot – up two positions from last week – and accumulated 613 points.

The Tide has played these teams in the current AP poll:

Sep. 3       USC                   AP #12 (up from #15)                         WIN 52-6

Oct. 15     Tennessee       AP #24 (not in the poll)                    WIN 49-10

Oct. 22     Texas A&M     AP #22 (up from #23)                        WIN 33-14

Southern California has come a long way since Bama crushed the Trojans by 46 points in the season opener for both teams, the Advocare Classic, played at AT&T Stadium. Four games in, USC was 1-3, with losses to (then #7) Stanford and (then #24) Utah. The Men of Troy righted their ship, topping (then #21) Colorado and (then #4) Washington State on the way to an 8-3 overall / 7-2 PAC-12 record. USC can win the PAC-12 South if Colorado (#9) loses to Utah (#21) on Nov. 26.

Auburn has competed against:

Sep. 3         Clemson           AP #4 (up from #5)                             LOSS 13-19

We’re not big fans of the “quality loss” concept, but if there is such a thing, Auburn’s 6-point defeat at the hands of (then #2) Clemson would probably qualify. Clemson is presently 11-1 overall, 7-1 in the ACC and tied with Louisville for the top spot in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. Clemson’s only loss was 42-43 to Pittsburgh, in a game decided by a 48-yard field goal that passed through the uprights with 6 seconds left. Clemson has not been lower than #5 in the AP poll this season.

And they have one opponent, none other than SEC West member LSU, in common:

Auburn       Sep. 24             LSU #25 (up from unranked)        WIN 18-13

Bama         Nov. 5              LSU #25 (up from unranked)           WIN 10-0

When Auburn played LSU, Auburn was unranked, while LSU held the #18 slot. Six weeks later, when Bama and LSU faced off in Tiger Stadium, Bama was #1 and LSU #15.

CFP Rankings

The relevant entries in the current rankings from the College Football Playoff (CFP) committee, released Tue, 11/22 are:

1) Alabama … 11-0 overall / 7-0 SEC; the only undefeated FBS program (*)

4) Clemson … defeated Auburn, 19-13, in season-opening game for both teams ( Sep. 3)

12) USC … bested by Bama, 52-6, in the Advocare Classic spotlight game ( Sep. 3)

14) Auburn … 8-3 overall / 5-2 SEC

15) Florida … winner of the SEC East; will play Bama for SEC championship on Dec. 3

17) Tennessee … lost to Bama, 49-10, in the “Third Saturday in October” game, Oct. 19

Bama and Auburn have no common foe in the CFP rankings at this time.

* Credit where credit is due: the Broncos of Western Michigan University are 11-0 overall, 7-0 in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) and winners of the MAC’s Western Division.

LSU and Ole Miss – Contrasting Performances

During the season, LSU had weak offensive performances against the Tide and Auburn:

>> Bama 10 – LSU 0 ; 10 points total ; -10 margin ; only shutout suffered by LSU ; only shutout achieved by the Tide (other shutout was against an FCS program, Kent State)

>> LSU 13 – Auburn 18 ; 31 points total; -5 margin ; Auburn won on 6 field goals, no TDs

On the other hand, the Rebels’ contests against Bama and Auburn were high-scoring events:

>> Bama 48 – Ole Miss 43 ; highest total score (91) in any Tide game this season; +5 is lowest margin of the season (all wins, of course)

>> Auburn 40 – Ole Miss 29 ; highest total score (69) in any Auburn game this season; +11 is the third-lowest winning margin for Auburn

Bama at Ole Miss (Sep. 17) : WIN 48-43

Perusing the stats, it takes a little work to determine how the Tide came away with a win. Ole Miss was +263 yards passing; Bama was +223 yards rushing. Ole Miss had less penalties for fewer yards (6 – 65 vs. 9-75). The Rebels kicking game delivered 13 points, while Bama’s generated 12. Then we see (a) Bama’s running game led to a very significant edge in time of possession, +10:46, which translated into fewer passing opportunities for Ole Miss, and (b) the Tide defense converted both Ole Miss fumbles into touchdowns. Ironically, a high-scoring contest was won on the defensive side of the ball.

Auburn vs. LSU (Sep. 24) : WIN 18-13

Auburn’s passing game was much better than LSU’s on that day in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn completed 19/26 (73.1%) for 234 yards with no INTs. LSU had four fewer completions on one more attempt (15/27, 55.6%), amassing 118 yards through the air. Auburn’s passing edge (+116 yards) more than offset its less-productive run game (-66 yards). Auburn had the advantage in first downs (18 – 14) and time of possession (32:11 – 27:49). Finally, Auburn’s kicker, the ultra-reliable Daniel Carson, was 6-for-6, including one that passed through the goalposts from 51 yards out.

Auburn at Ole Miss (Oct. 29) : WIN 40-29

Total offense for this game, both teams: 1124 yards – 554 for Auburn and 570 for Ole Miss (not one for the ages, defensively). The Rebels ground game was impotent – 105 yards and no points on 31 carries, but Auburn’s was very strong – 52 carries, 307 yards and three TDs. Ole Miss matched that by throwing for three passing TDs. Unfortunately for the squad from Oxford, the Auburn passing game was solid: 15/22 (68.2%), 247 yards and one TD. The 11-point margin came from that one TD, one additional FG (Mr. Carlson was 4/4) and an extra point (guess who).

Bama at LSU (Nov. 5) : WIN 10-0

Bama completely shut down LSU’s ground game, and won with a rushing TD and field goal in the final quarter. Here’s how ineffective LSU was running the ball: rushing yards – 33 /   attempts – 27 / yards per rush – 1.2   / TDs – 0 / longest run: 9 yards. Bama, in contrast, gained 216 yards running and held significant edges in first downs (16 – 6) and time of possession (33:55 – 26:05).

Scoring and scoring defense

All SEC games

Bama       274 scored (39.1 ppg)           106 allowed (15.1 ppg)             +24.0 ppg

Auburn     198 scored (28.3 ppg)           117 allowed (16.7 ppg)             +11.6 ppg

While the consensus is that this year’s Bama defense is stocked with NFL-ready players and may be the best of Coach Saban’s tenure, we note that most of Bama’s +12.4 ppg margin over Auburn during this SEC season has come from the offense. The offense is +10.8 ppg, which is 87.1% of 12.4 ppg.

SEC games, revised

Now, we’ll remove the games with the highest and lowest scoring margins for both teams. For the Tide, we disregard the wins over LSU (10-0) and Mississippi State (51-3); for Auburn, we take out the win over Arkansas (56-3) and the loss to Texas A&M (16-29).

Bama     213 scored (42.6 ppg)           103 allowed (20.6 ppg)             +20.0 ppg

Auburn   126 scored (25.2 ppg)               85 allowed (17.0 ppg)             +8.2 ppg

Bama’s average points scored and allowed both go up, and the margin decreases by 4.0 ppg. Auburn’s average scoring drops by about one field goal per game, while average points allowed stays essentially the same. The difference in the two teams’ margins drops from 12.4 ppg to 11.8 ppg, which – being less than a single PAT kick – isn’t really significant in any “on the field” way.

If Bama and Auburn stay close to their respective scoring and scoring defense averages, it looks like the Tide will win the Iron Bowl by at least 13 points. But if the Bama offense gets rolling and pushes the score into or past the high 20s, it seems very unlikely that Auburn – unless its passing attack is a lot better than usual – will be able to keep pace. In that event, Bama’s winning margin could approach three TDs.

How Auburn might win

Productive passing game

Auburn’s passing attack was effective, if not spectacular against LSU and Ole Miss. In both cases, Auburn had a modest number of attempts (26 and 22), but with decent completion percentages (55.5 and 68.2). If Auburn can get one TD through the air, rely on passes to keep drives alive (at least into field-goal range) and suffer no INTs, the passing game will be doing its share.

Don’t abandon the run game

Auburn stayed fairly close to LSU in terms of yards gained by rushing and achieved a huge edge over Ole Miss (+202 yards). In a previous post, we noted that despite a very respectable effort in the first half, Auburn pretty much abandoned the run game against Georgia. The Tigers passing game was abysmal that day and the Bulldogs were victorious in a low-scoring contest, 13-7. It’s no picnic trying to run the ball against the Tide’s front seven, but Auburn should not give up too easily.

FGs

Daniel Carlson is the best placekicker in all of college football. He is incredibly accurate (88.0% on field goals), ultra reliable (43/43 extra points), and has great range (5/5 from 40-49 yards, 3/5 from 50+ yards). If the Iron Bowl comes down to a late-in-game FGA by him, it could be a sad night in T-Town.

Aggressive on punt returns and punt blocks

Just as Carlson is a big part of the Auburn offense, J. K. Scott’s punting (Carlson and Scott, both juniors, were both recruited from Colorado high schools. The Tigers’ elite placekicker is from Colorado Springs, and Bama’s stellar punter hails from Denver) is a key component of the Bama defense by routinely “flipping the field” in the Tide’s favor. Against the Bama defense, every yard matters. The risks can be high, but Auburn should consider being aggressive on punt returns and punt blocks to avoid being faced with distressingly long stretches of the Bryant-Denny field all afternoon.  Punt Bama, Punt?

Postscript

I’m often asked about the Notorious PAB – who is he and what is his connection to the Lighthouse?  Here’s what N-PAB has to say about that…

“The Notorious PAB grew up in Big 10 country, and caught SEC football fever when he lived in Birmingham for 10 years.  His Southern relatives include Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State alumni.  During his career as an “IT guy,” Notorious – as he is known to his friends – did a fair amount of writing, largely because most of his colleagues either would not or could not.  His vita includes university publications, newsletter/newspaper/magazine articles, conference proceedings and, of course, posts for The Bama Lighthouse.   His most widely-read work – a risque’, but not vulgar, limerick – appeared anonymously in “Playboy’s Party Jokes.”
And, for the record, Notorious PAB is most grateful for the opportunities afforded him by the fine man and good friend who created The Bama Lighthouse.”
The Lighthouse is certainly grateful for all of the work the Notorious PAB has put into this site!

 

W2W4 in the 2016 Iron Bowl

The 2016 Iron Bowl is upon us and our good friends in Vegas are expecting it to be a beat down of epic proportions. The line opened at Alabama (-18.5) with the news that Kam Pettway, Sean White and Chandler Cox are all less than 100% for Saturday’s contest. Hell, even the Auburn eagle isn’t 100% healthy after smacking himself into the goal post last week. And, the betting line may increase to triple digits if Auburn announces that poor ole Jeremy Johnson will be trotted out onto the Bryant-Denny grass as Auburn’s sacrificial offering to the god of football (aka Nick Saban).

When we turned on the tape this week to watch Auburn take on Vandy, Georgia and Alabama A&M (yes, sigh, we watched this because we had to evaluate Jeremy Johnson), we saw an Auburn team that ran the ball very well but struggled mightily to throw that darned ole forward pass. However, the Tigers’ defense (particularly their front four) was absolutely legitimately nasty in all three games. In many, many ways these Tigers remind us of those cats down in Baton Rouge so honestly it’s no wonder that both sets of Tigers won and lost the game they played against one another in September.

Prior to Auburn’s loss to Georgia (here’s a gentle reminder to you all to put that Christmas card in the mail to Kirby Smart and Maurice Smith), Saturday’s Iron Bowl tilt was supposed to be for all the SEC West marbles. Now, with Alabama having clinched the West and a birth in the SEC Championship Game, instead of playing for all the marbles they’ll be playing for peanuts and pride. But, when these two hated instate rivals get together, peanuts and pride are more than enough to play for when you get statewide bragging rights to go with it.

Everyone knows that this game should be a blowout, right? Well, if you are an Alabama fan then the Lighthouse staff feels this game will be reminiscent to Bama’s 10-0 victory over LSU. Alabama completely dominated the LSU game and could have won the game by a score of 20-3 or something like that but they never could move the ball consistently.

If you are an Auburn fan, then we can see this game playing out much like the Georgia loss last week. Georgia completely dominated the Auburn game (yes, Auburn fans, UGA outgained Auburn 343 to 164, had a 21 to 10 edge in first downs and held a 39 to 21 minute edge in time of possession – that’s domination) and the score could have and should have been much worse than the 13-7 final.

So, we see this game being in the 20 to 6 range in favor of Alabama. But, how will they get there? Here’s what to watch for in the 81st rendition of the Iron Bowl…

Alabama on Offense

Recently, the Tide offense has ebbed and flowed with high water marks against Texas A&M and Mississippi State interspersed with draught like levels against LSU and Chattanooga. We’d rather be able to tell you the Tide offense is peaking at just the right time but uneven passing performances by Jalen Hurts and yet another offensive line shakeup at right guard leaves us chewing on our fingernails this week.

As we watched Auburn’s defense against Vandy, Georgia and Alabama A&M, it was very obvious that the Tigers’ front four is not overrated at all. We’ve heard a lot about Carl Lawson and Montravious Adams this season and, when you turn on the tape, they jump off the screen immediately. Either of these cats could start for Alabama.

Defensively, Auburn checks in at number 18 in the nation in total defense, giving up 334.5 yards per game. As a comparison, LSU is ranked 11th, giving up 308 yards per game. Our film work revealed that Auburn defends the run much, much better than they defend the pass and their rankings certainly bear that out. Auburn is 17th in the country against the run but they are ranked 54th against the pass. Part of their lack of success against the pass is due to this surprising stat – even though the Tigers have Lawson and Adams along their front line, they are ranked 50th in the country in generating sacks this season. But, more on this in a moment.

We envision an offensive game plan that will be eerily similar to the Ole Miss game plan from earlier this season. Look for bubble screens, fly sweeps, swing passes and any other play call that can attack the flanks of the Auburn defense. The gnarly teeth of this Tiger defense is between the tackles but, when you get outside, the purr like a kitten. Kiffin will stretch the field horizontally and will keep the pedal to the metal with a hurry up approach designed to tucker out Auburn’s big front four.

Here’s what else to watch for when Alabama has the ball…

Flanking Movements: Vandy had a ton of success with a flanker reverse, fly sweeps and any many other outside runs they attempted. Vandy & Georgia also had success bouncing interior runs outside. Georgia’s bread and butter against Auburn was tossing the ball or swinging the ball to Sony Michel and Nick Chubb and letting them get outside of the Auburn interior. This was wildly successful and should be for Alabama, as well. FYI – Georgia also ran a successful reverse so this should be something Kiffin is carrying in his tool bag.

OJ Should Be a Killer: Sorry, couldn’t help myself with the title. OJ Howard should have a massive, massive game this week against the Tigers. Vandy and Georgia both found their tight ends wide open against the Auburn zone and against man coverage so OJ should be available in the passing game. Georgia, in particular, ran a crossing route with their slot receiver that occupied one of the Auburn linebackers. At the same time, they crossed their tight end from the opposite side and, with the LB vacating his spot to pick up the wide receiver, the crossing tight end was left all alone.

Twilight Zone: Auburn seems to play a bend but don’t break zone coverage between the 20’s and it’s designed to force a team to methodically drive the ball down the field. However, if the Bama offensive line can hold up against Auburn’s front four, look for Kiffin to manipulate the secondary in such a way that leaves some receivers wide, wide open. He’ll flood zones or will clear them out completely and this should leave the backs, tight ends and slots wide open.

The Key to the Game: Montravious Adams (#1) is one sick beast. His ability to get off the ball at the snap is second to none and he brings five stars worth of size and athleticism to the defensive tackle position. Carl Lawson (#55) is equally good off the edge so Alabama’s front will be severely tested this week. Look for Kiffin to roll the pocket in an effort to change the launch point so that Adams and Lawson spend much of their day chasing rather than hunting. With Cam Robinson and Korren Kirven’s injuries, Lawson and Adams could have a very disruptive day. In particular, pray for Kirven. I don’t think he matches up well against Adams at all.

Alignment: Many plays can succeed or fail even before the football is snapped and that’s simply due to how the defense lines up. Auburn heavily overplays the strong side (the side of the line where the
TE lines up) so look for Alabama to threaten a fly sweep to the strong side and then counter back to the weakside with pulling guards. Georgia did this and it was a beautiful thing.

Deep Shots: I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to watch Hurts execute a perfect play action fake and load up to throw the deep ball only to see him tuck and run. Georgia’s Riley Ridley (Calvin’s brother) blew by Auburn’s corners repeatedly, getting either a big gainer or a pass interference penalty. Carlton Davis (#6) & Javaris Davis (#31) were both beaten by Ridley multiple times. Deep shots down the sidelines will be available and Hurts is going to have to do a much, much better job in giving his receivers an opportunity to make a play down the field. He just needs to throw the damn ball.

Tidebits

  • Bubbles: Bubble screens appear to be effective against Auburn’s zone. Again, anything on the perimeter looks very tasty this week.
  • Fly Sweeps: See bubbles above. Ardarius Stewart could have a field day.
  • Motion: Look for Kiffin to use a lot of motion way out wide this week in an effort to identify if Auburn is playing zone or man. We think a back or TE will motion out wide (wider than the widest receiver) in an effort to see what the corner does. If the corner slides off of the wide receiver and picks up the TE/RB, then Auburn is in zone. If a linebacker or safety runs outside to match the formation, they’ll be in man.
  • Play Action: Another reason OJ Howard should be open is the aggressiveness of the Auburn linebackers. They’ll be hell bent to stop the run and they are overly aggressive anyway so look for some heavy play action on first down to draw the LBs up and open up passing lanes down the middle. Vandy had a lovely time doing this.
  • Zone Read: Vandy brought in a running back and executed the zone read to perfection a few times. Once again, Jalen Hurts’ legs should be successful in the zone read (especially if he bounces outside).
  • Push: Vandy and Georgia tired out the Auburn front and eventually began getting a solid push at the line of scrimmage. Even with the Tigers’ depth, they appeared to get winded in the second half.
  • Underneath: We can’t emphasize this enough – Alabama will have numerous opportunities throwing the football underneath the zone. Look for Jacobs to have room to maneuver out of the backfield and he’s shown he can be deadly in the open field. Vandy even ran their wide outs on in-routes and they were left wide open – usually because they had cleared a zone with their tight end.
  • Adams: Seriously, Montravious Adams is a beast. Here are some consecutive notes that I took on him: “Center was picked off by #57 and Adams came free and nearly killed the quarterback. Adams with a spin move and he blew by the guard. Adams stunts with Lawson – mercy, it’s an onslaught. Adams beats the guard again and forces the pass to be thrown away.” I think Kirven will struggle mightily and I think Josh Casher may be inserted into the lineup to see if he can do any better.

Final Thoughts

Last week’s lackluster performance by the offense shouldn’t give Tide fans too much pause. Cam Robinson and Korren Kirven will start but it will be interesting to see how healthy they are because they’ll have to be at their best against Lawson and Adams. Vanderbilt and Georgia were both able to gain yards on the ground when attacking the edges and they both found open receivers against the Auburn zone. Kiffin should be able to find a few ways to put up some points and just a few points is all Alabama will need this week.

Alabama on Defense

What can you say about this Alabama defense. I mean, they haven’t given up a touchdown since the Texas A&M game! And then there’s the woeful Auburn Tiger offense – it’s an offense where if you have a helmet and shoulder pads and are standing on the sidelines, they could ask you to take a snap from center. Sean White, John Franklin III, Jeremy Johnson, Chandler Cox and Kerryon Johnson have all taken snaps this season and we have no reason to believe that this will change on Saturday. Our “little birds” report that White is dealing with a torn labrum and, while we think he’ll play, he’ll struggle to perform against this Bama defense.

Kam Pettway is reportedly coming back but he’ll also be less than 100% and that will certainly impact the Auburn running game. Malzhan won’t ask Pettway to carry the ball 30 times and carry the burden for the Tiger offense so while we think Pettway will carry the football, he’ll be a supporting cast member and not the lead player. Even Kerryon Johnson and Chandler Cox are dealing with injuries so it’s a battered and bruised Tiger bunch that’s coming to Bryant-Denny.

But, does it matter who plays? This season, Alabama’s defense shut down the prolific zone read running of MSU’s Nick Fitzgerald. They stoned Leonard Fournette who surely is better than a less than healthy Kam Pettway. And, remember, Kirby Smart shut down this Auburn offense with a vastly inferior group of defenders. Even Pat Dye would be hard pressed to explain to the Tiger nation how the Gus Bus will find the end zone this week. Here’s what to watch for when Alabama stuffs the Auburn offense this week…

Bouncy House: For all of the love of Pettway’s interior running, his best runs come when he starts up the middle and then bounces outside to his left. The Auburn OL executes man on man drive blocking and this bunches the defenders between the tackles. With the linebackers slamming the interior gaps, Pettway then bounces outside and turns the corner. Kerryon Johnson also loves to bounce his wildcat runs to the left, as well. Ryan Anderson, Jonathan Allen and others will have to contain the edges this week but, if you’ve read this blog, you know no one in the country sets the edge better than Alabama.

Unblocked Defensive Ends: Auburn loves to leave opposing defensive ends unblocked so look for Alabama to attack the mesh point with reckless abandon. Tackles for loss, anyone?

Wildcat: We think the wildcat will be a prominent formation for Auburn this week. Look for Alabama’s safeties to crash down into the running lanes in an effort to cut this play off at the knees. Johnson loves to start up the middle and bounce outside so Fitzpatrick and Harrison will have to come up and make plays. We also suspect there will be a trick play off of this that will allow Scott Cochran to laugh and scream, “Run another trick play, b-tch!”

Pulling Guards: If you see the Auburn guards pull, know that is where the play is going. Every. Time.

Short, Short Man: Whether it’s Sean White or Jeremy Johnson or Donald Trump, you can expect everything they have to be short. Short passes, I mean. Short curls and stop routes seem 90% of the Auburn passing attack and they take place within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage. They’ll mix in a variety of swings and flares to the backs and fly sweep guys but when they throw the ball “down the field” beyond the line of scrimmage, look for a three step drop and a curl/hitch/stop route. Bama defenders will be squatting on this and it will allow Saban to commit his safeties to stopping the run.

The Jeremy Johnson Effect: So, I sat thru the Auburn vs Alabama A&M game so that I could bring you these few sentences. You are welcome, by the way! So, JJ looked pretty decent when he took a three step drop and threw the ball to the one guy he was looking at and this was most of what they asked him to do. He never “read” the defense and only threw the ball down the field a couple of times – once overthrowing and missing a wide open receiver for a touchdown. On both of his down the field throws, he lofted the ball up, kind of “wishing” the ball on its journey rather than firing it with confidence. But, he did run the zone read quite a bit and is certainly more equipped to run it than Sean White. If I’m Gus, I’m starting JJ – to ask White to go up against the #1 defense in the country and do so when White is clearly less than 50% healthy would just be cruel to ask that of the kid.

Sean White: This poor kid cannot throw the ball down the field. He hasn’t thrown in practice for weeks and when he has thrown the ball against Vandy and Georgia, the ball flutters and has nothing on it. If White starts or plays any significant time in the game, consider this to be good news for the Tide.

Eye Candy: The Malzahn/Lashlee offense uses a variety of motions and formations designed to get the defense to misalign and get outnumbered. Alabama will have to read their keys and be extremely sound in their coverages – this is where not having Eddie Jackson is a big deal. But, of course, by this time Minkah Fitzpatrick and the crew should have adjusted – it’s just that Auburn stresses alignments like no other. That being said, the linebackers will be stressed this week as Auburn tries to manipulate them into blowing a few coverages on their running backs.

The Pruitt Factor: Georgia and Vandy both scored hits in the backfield when they brought delayed blitzes from their linebackers so look for Alabama to be ultra-aggressive this week, which is Pruitt’s forte. We’ve long said that Pruitt’s defense has fared much better against Gus than Kirby Smart said and this week AL.com posted an article to prove it. http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2016/11/gus_malzahn_has_something_to_p.html#incart_river_mobile_home_pop The Gus Bus typically smacks into the guard rail against Pruitt’s defenses, averaging six fewer points and 23 fewer yards than against Kirby Smart. Gus has never beaten a Pruitt defense and we don’t think that will change this week.

 

Tidebits

  • If Auburn rushes up to the line of scrimmage and snaps the ball within 9 seconds, the play will be a zone read running play. Typically, their philosophy has changed to the point where now they just pick their spots to go fast – they don’t do it the whole game anymore.
  • Jalen Harris (#85) struggles much of the time he’s asked to block so look for Alabama to work him over as they make their way into the Auburn backfield.
  • Right tackle Robert Leff (#70) also looked like a turnstile at times during the Vandy and Georgia games. If he and Harris line up next to each other, it’s a good bet that penetration will be coming from Auburn’s right side.
  • That being said, Braden Smith (#71) and Alex Kozan (#63) are two of the best guards in the country. Alabama’s interior players like Da’Ron Payne and Dalvin Tomlinson will have to anchor very well this week in the middle of the line. AU likes to double team the tackles so Payne and Tomlinson will be put to the test. Thankfully, they excel at holding their position and reestablishing the line of scrimmage – should be an epic battle.
  • Auburn had a bunch of dropped passes in the games I watched so, in the unlikely event that they get a catchable ball, it’s not a certainty that the ball will be caught.
  • Bubble screens, fake screens and more bubble screens are the majority of the Auburn throws. They also love to get their backs out on wheel routes so Bama’s backers will likely be challenged in the passing game.
  • When Auburn goes empty but still has a running back in the game (lined up out wide), look for the RB to get the ball on a jet sweep.
  • If the AU quarterback lines up under center, look for a speed sweep to a receiver. Regardless, Auburn really does stress the flanks of the defense. They love to give the ball to their speed guys around the end.
  • Alabama will have HUGE success when they blitz Rueben Foster up the A/B gap. Georgia’s blitzes were very effective, particularly up the middle.
  • Alabama leads the SEC in scoring defense (12.2), total defense (259.5) and, most importantly this week, rushing defense (68.8).

Final Thoughts

Jeremy Pruitt has pretty much owned the Gus Bus since he became a collegiate defensive coordinator. Much like Malzahn, Pruitt’s roots are in high school football where he had to concoct an aggressive defense to combat the speed and diversity of formations with these hurry up, no huddle offenses. As a result, Pruitt has been better prepared to stop the Auburn attack than Kirby Smart (and now I have the numbers to prove it). Smart’s squad limited Auburn to ZERO first downs in the second half and he did so with inferior talent…so, imagine what Pruitt’s wrecking crew will do to the Auburn Tigers on Saturday.

Alabama on Special Teams

The 2016 version of the Iron Bowl will feature two of the best players in the country on special teams. For Alabama, JK Scott continues to lead the conference in punting average with a silly 48.5 yard average. His ability to flip the field and force opponents to put together long drives in order to score has been instrumental in Alabama leading the country in total defense. Auburn punter Kevin Phillips is 9th in the conference in with a 41.6 yard punting average.

Forcing the Tigers to put together long drives will be a key to this game because any time Auburn gets to the Bama 35 yard line, you can pretty much chalk up a field goal for the Tigers. Daniel Carlson is the best field goal kicker in the country, hitting 22 of 25 field goals on the season and he’s 3 of 5 on field goals from 50+.

Oddly enough, Adam Griffith actually comes into this game riding a hot streak, making his last five kicks. Griffith’s last miss was a 42 yarder against LSU. For the season, Griffith is now 14 of 20 but he’s only hit 2 of 5 kicks beyond 40 yards.

In the return game, neither team really does much when they return kick offs or punts these days. Nationally, Auburn is ranked #83 in kick returns while Alabama is ranked #92. Of course, Carlson usually just bangs the thing thru the end zone so that, along with Auburn being challenged to score, means it’s unlikely the Tide will get many chances to return a kick.

In the punt return game, Alabama’s return game hasn’t nearly been as good since Eddie Jackson went down with an injury. Jackson averaged a mind blowing 23 yards per return while Trevon Diggs averages just 4.6. On the other side of the field, Auburn’s Marcus Davis is averaging 7.1 yards per return. It’s unlikely the return game will have much of an impact this week.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

The game will come down to Alabama’s offense versus Auburn’s defense. Frankly, Alabama’s struggles against LSU will likely be revisited this week because Auburn has a very salty defense. Auburn is also the #2 ranked red zone defense so moving the ball as we outlined in the offensive section above should happen between the 20s but turning these drives into touchdowns will be incredibly important and difficult this week.

On the other side of the ball, we simply don’t see how Auburn is going to generate many points. Auburn is so incredibly run heavy this season and that’s just not the way to beat this Alabama D. Auburn ranks 5th nationally in rushing attempts with 573 but is ranked 119th in passing attempts. With Alabama ranking #1 in the country against the run, this doesn’t bode well for the Tigers. Auburn will have to throw the football to win and that’s clearly not something they want to do.

For those looking for an upset this week, don’t. For all of the mystique of this rivalry, I’ve said it for years that the better team almost always wins the Iron Bowl, and they do. The team with the better record wins 82% of the time and when the teams are separated by three or more wins, the team with the better record wins a staggering 92% of the time. That percentage will go up after this week…

Final Score: Alabama 23   Auburn 6

 

 

An Iron Bowl Preview – A Look at Common Top 25 Opponents

Many thanks to the Notorious PAB for statistically breaking down the Iron Bowl this week. Here’s the first of his two installments this week!  Enjoy!

Looking Ahead to the Iron Bowl –

Games Against Common Opponents Texas A&M and LSU

Introduction

Keeping with long-standing and respected tradition, this season’s Iron Bowl – to be played on November 26 at Bryant-Denny Stadium – is the last SEC and regular season game for the Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers. Having wrapped up the SEC West Division when Georgia bested Auburn, 13-7, on Nov. 12, Bama’s next stop will be the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to vie for the SEC Championship.   (Par-tay in The ATL for sure.)

Conference rules require each SEC team to play all other teams in its division. Thus, the Tide and Tigers have five common West opponents in 2016: Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. (There are no common foes from the East Divison this season.) In this article, we’re going to focus on the two common opponents included in CFP rankings that were released on Nov. 15: the LSU Tigers at #16 and the Texas A&M Aggies at #25.

A Look at Bye Weeks and “Tune-Up Games”

One interesting aspect of the Iron Bowl is what Bama and Auburn do the preceeding week. There are four alternatives: schedule a bye week, compete against a non-FBS team in a so-called “tune-up game,” play an SEC team, or face an opponent from one of the FBS (aka Power Five) conferences. Not surprisingly, the Tide and the Tigers have taken different approaches over the years. Let’s look at what’s happened since Coach Saban set up shop in T-Town in 2007.

Bama

From 2007, Bama has been very consistent in its approach to the “week before.” In 2008, the Tide played Mississippi State, winning 32-7. In all other years of Coach Saban’s tenure, Bama has played non-FBS foes:

2007         Louisiana-Monroe         LOSS   14-21

2009         Chattanooga                   WIN   45-0

2010         Georgia State                   WIN   63-7

2011         Georgia Southern            WIN   45-21

2012         Western Carolina             WIN   49-0

2013         Chattanooga                     WIN   49-0

2014         Western Carolina             WIN   48-14

2015         Charlestown Southern   WIN   56-6

2016         Chattanooga                     WIN   31-3

In the nine games against non-FBS squads, the Tide is 8-1, scoring a total of 400 points (44.4 ppg), while surrendering 72 (8.0 ppg). The only loss was in 2007, when the Louisina-Monroe Warhawks topped the Tide by one touchdown, 14-7. That season, the Warhawks were 6-6 overall, 4-3 in the Sun Belt Conference. But the team had experience against big-time programs, playing Clemson and Texas A&M earlier that season before taking the field at Bryant-Denny.

This year’s opponent, the Chattanooga Mocs, entered the game 8-2 overall / 6-2 in Southern Conference play, and led the Tide, 3-0, at the end of the initial quarter.

Auburn

The “week before” experience for Auburn since 2007 has been a mix of bye weeks and contests versus non-FBS teams. The Tigers’ schedule is shaped by its annual rivalry game with the Georgia Bulldogs, the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.” (The series started in 1892; there have been 115 games; and, since 1947, the contest has been played on the second or third Saturday in November.)

2007 – 10   bye week after Georgia game

2011           Samford                             WIN 35-16

2012           Alabama A&M                 WIN 51-7

2013           by week after Georgia game

2014           Samford                             WIN 31-7

2015           Idaho                                   WIN 56-34

2016           Alabama A&M                   WIN 55-0

In these five contests, Auburn is 5-0, accumulating 228 points (45.6 ppg), and allowing only 64 (16.0 ppg).

We note that since Gus Malzahn became head coach in 2013, Auburn has had only one bye week. Schedules can be, and often are, made years ahead, but there is relatively more flexibility in arranging late-in-season games with non-conference, non-FBS opponents. (We realize that money – i.e., “major payday for a small school” – can play a big part.) It would not surprise us if Coach Malzahn, who faced Saban-led Bama teams as Auburn’s OC/QB Coach in 2009-2011, decided that when it comes to preparing for an Iron Bowl, playing a game is more useful than having a week off.

This season, Auburn defeated the Alabama A&M Bulldogs of the Southwestern Atlantic Conference. The Bulldogs were 3-6 overall / 3-5 in SWAC games going into their matchup withg the Tigers.

Schedule Context for the Texas A&M and LSU Games

Sometimes, when and where teams meet can affect a game’s outcome. (On the other hand, elite teams are little influenced by such factors, which has been true of the Tide so far this season). Let’s place the Texas A&M and LSU games in the context of Bama’s and Auburn’s 2016 schedules.

Auburn

9/17     Texas A&M (#17 AP)     Jordan-Hare Stadium     LOSS 16-29

9/23     LSU (#18 AP)                 Jordan-Hare Stadium     WIN   18-13

Texas A&M was Auburn’s first SEC contest of the season. The Tigers were 1-1 going into the game, previously losing to Clemson (AP #2) and topping Arkansas State, 51-14.   Auburn played the Aggies and Tigers on consecutive Saturdays, the third and fourth of five straight home games. The winning score against LSU was comprised of six field goals; Auburn scored no TDs in the contest.

Bama

10/22   Texas A&M (#6 AP)        Bryant-Denny Stadium     WIN 33-14

11/5       LSU ( #15 CFP)               Tiger Stadium                     WIN 10-0

First, we note that the opponents came in the same order – Texas A&M first, then LSU.   Bama had to go on the road, however, traveling to Baton Rouge to play the Tigers. In that game, the Tigers were led by a new head coach. After losing to Auburn, Les Miles was replaced on an interim basis by Ed Ogeron, who had been in charge of the defensive line. Orgeron was also interim head coach at Southern Cal in 2013.

Bama faced the Aggies and Tigers in consecutive games, not on consecutive Saturdays. Bama and LSU both had bye weeks prior to their epic defensive struggle. These games came during a very challenging stretch: prior to taking the field against the Aggies, Bama had back-to-back contests against ranked SEC West teams: Arkansas (#16 AP) on 10/8 and at Tennessee (#9 AP) in the “Third Saturday in October” game (10/15).

The Tide’s 10-0 victory at Tiger Stadium produced Bama’s smallest winning margin of 2016 and its only shutout. LSU’s only SEC losses have been to Auburn and Bama. (The loss to Auburn likely cost Les Miles his job, while a win over Bama would have certainly boosted Ed Orgeron’s case to have his “interim” designation removed.) The Tigers’ other defeat was at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers (8-2, now #7 CFP) on Sep. 3 at Lambeau Field.

Game Statistics

Opponent – Texas A&M

    Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total
Scoring by quarter TEXAS A&M 0 7 7 0 14
  BAMA 6 7 13 7 33

 

  TEXAS A&M 3 13 3 10 29
  AUBURN 7 3 0 6 16

 

Bama didn’t have an “offensive explosion” in any quarter against the Aggies, just solid production and scoring in each period. As usual for this season, the second and third stanzas were when the Tide put up the majority of their points. The Auburn defense, in a losing effort, thwarted several A&M drives, forcing the Aggies to settle for field goals five times. Unfortunately for the Tigers, those 15 points exceeded the eventual margin of victory.

  BAMA TEXAS A&M   AUBURN TEXAS A&M
Time of possession 35:50 24:10   31:04 28:56
Total yards 451 278   399 478
First downs 28 17   26 19
3rd-down conversions 7 / 14 5 / 16   6 / 17 2 / 15
4th-down conversions 0 / 1 1 / 3   0 / 2 1 / 1

 

We looked at these “high-level” stats from the Bama / A&M game and thought, “Maybe A&M was lucky to have lost by only 19 points.” The Tide enjoyed +11:40 in time of position (essentially 3:2 ratio), +173 total yards and +11 first downs.

Auburn, in its losing effort, had the ball a little longer (+2:08), but generated 79 fewer yards, despite 7 more first downs. The most interesting/confusing anomaly in the game are the third-down conversions. At 35.3%, Auburn did OK, but A&M was abysmal, converting only twice on 15 opportunities (13.3%)

  BAMA TEXAS A&M   AUBURN TEXAS A&M
PASSING          
Passing yards 164 164   163 247
Comps/atts 15 / 25 (60.0%) 14 / 31 (45.2%)   22 / 35 (62.9%) 20 / 40 (50.0%)
Yards/att 6.6 5.3   4.7 6.2
Yards/comp 10.9 11.7   7.4 12.4
Passing TDS 2 2   0 1
INTs 1 2   0 0

 

The Tide and Aggies accumulated equal passing yardage, but Bama had six fewer attempts, and a far superior completion rate (60.0% – 45.2%). Yards per completion were essentially the same. The Aggies were hurt by one additional interception. In the Auburn game, A&M threw more (40 – 35 attempts) with a lower completion rate (50.0% – 62.9%), but accumulated 1.5 yards for every one yard by Auburn. The yards per completion ratio was 1.7:1.

  BAMA TEXAS A&M   AUBURN TEXAS A&M
RUSHING          
Rushing yards 287 114   236 231
Rushing atts 57 38   54 37
Yards / rush 5.0 3.0   4.4 6.2
Rushing TDs 1 0   2 1

 

We’ll cut to the chase: Bama’s run game really stood out. Fifty-seven attempts is evidence of a deep commitment to rushing the football. That commitment was rewarded with 287 yards, which is just over 2.5X what the Aggies gained. 5.0 yards/carry is definitely conducive to moving the chains and keeping the clock running. (Only one rushing TD is a bit curious.) Auburn and A&M generated about the same total rushing yards, but Auburn required about 1.5X as many plays, so the Aggies were clearly more efficient on the ground.

  BAMA TEXAS A&M   AUBURN TEXAS A&M
OFFENSIVE BALANCE          
Total plays 82 69   89 77
Total yards 451 278   399 478
Yards/play 5.5 4.0   4.5 6.2
           
Rushes 57 38   54 37
Percentage of plays 69.5% 55.1%   60.7% 48.1%
Rushing yards 287 114   236 231
Percentage of yards 63.7% 41.0%   59.1% 48.3%
           
Passes 25 31   35 40
Percentage of plays 30.5% 44.9%   39.3% 51.9%
Passing yardage 164 164   163 247
Percentage of yards 36.3% 59.0%   40.9 51.7%

 

First, a question about the current pace of offense in big-time college football: “Are you kidding me?” Look at the total plays – 82, 69, 89 and 77. The average is 79.3 plays/team/game, a little more than 2.6 plays per one minute of game time. Bama and Auburn both favored the run game against A&M, the Tide a bit more so. The Aggies had a supremely balanced offensive effort versus the Tigers with rush/pass play mix 48.1% – 51.9%, and rush/pass yardage 48.3% – 51.7%.

  BAMA TEXAS A&M   AUBURN TEXAS A&M
PENALTIES          
Number / yards 7 / 44 9 / 81   6 / 28 9 / 70
           
TURNOVERS          
Fumbles lost 0 1   1 0
INTs 2 1   0 0

 

A penalty is never a good thing, but these 31 penalties were called during a total of at least 317 plays. (Penalties are called during special-teams plays, of course, as we all know too well from the ubiqitious “block in the back” foul during punt and kickoff returns.) Bama and Auburn both played “cleaner” games than the Aggies. The Tigers were very disciplined – only 6 penalties that cost them 28 yards.

Opponent – LSU

Auburn and LSU are both known as the Tigers, so we’ll use school names in this section to avoid any confusion.

    Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total
Scoring by quarter BAMA 0 0 0 10 10
  LSU 0 0 0 0 0
             
  LSU 7 0 6 0 13
  AUBURN 3 6 3 6 18

 

Defensively, the 2016 Bama / LSU matchup was one for the ages, recalling the epic 6-9 overtime contest in 2011. With the score 0-0 going into the fourth quarter, cell towers in the Baton Rouge area were no doubt overwhelmed by calls from NFL scouts, all telling defensive coordinators about the wealth of talent on the field. Auburn scored no TDs, but kicked six field goals in its win over LSU at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Note that Auburn stayed close during all periods, allowing them to stick to a game plan that paid off in the end.

  BAMA LSU   AUBURN LSU
Time of possession 33:55 26:05   32:11 27:49
Total yards 323 125   388 338
First downs 16 6   18 14
3rd-down conversions 7 / 17 4 / 15   8 / 9 4 / 13
4th-down conversions 1 /2 0 / 2   0 – 1 0 – 0

 

In this time of fast-strike, “impact play” offenses, time-of-possession doesn’t matter as much as it once did… unless we’re talking about low-scoring games in which excellent defenses hold sway. Bama had the ball for 7:50 longer and made great use of that time – 198 more in total yards and a +10 margin in third-down conversions. (Holding LSU to 125 total yards was amazing.) Auburn held a smaller time-of-possession edge (+4:22) on its way to amassing 50 yards more in total offense (388 – 338). Auburn’s ability to keep drives going was absolutely first-rate: eight of nine third-down opportunities were converted.

  BAMA LSU   AUBURN LSU
PASSING          
Passing yards 107 92   234 118
Comps/atts 10 / 19 (52.6%) 11 / 24 (45.8%)   19 / 26 (73.1%) 15 / 27 (55.6%)
Yards/att 5.6 3.8   9.0 4.4
Yards/comp 10.7 8.4   12.3 7.9
Passing TDS 0 0   0 1
INTs 1 1   0 0

 

LSU’s passing attack was ineffective in both games: 26 completions in 51 attempts (50.1%), 210 yards and one touchdown. One touchdown in eight quarters. Bama’s approach was quite conservative, but efficient: 107 yards from 10 completions. Auburn outgained LSU by almost 2:1 in the air, averaging 12.3 yards/completion with a stellar 73.1% completion rate. But LSU kept Auburn receivers out of the end zone all game.

  BAMA LSU   AUBURN LSU
RUSHING          
Rushing yards 216 33   154 220
Rushing atts 51 27   49 32
Yards / rush 4.2 1.2   3.1 6.9
Rushing TDs 1 0   0 0

Using an old-school, four-function calculator, we find that 33 X 6.55 = 216. That’s how superior Bama’s run game was throughout the evening of Nov. 5. We don’t know exactly what LSU’s game plan was going in, but being held to an average of 1.2 yards/carry no doubt threw a big, rusty wrench in the works. The Tide rolled up 216 yards against a defense with a lot of guys who’ll be playing on Sundays and kept the clock moving.

Stifling the LSU running game, of course, meant controlling RB Leonard Fournette. And that’s exactly what the Tide did. Fournette was held to 35 yards on 15 carries (2.1 yards/rush) and 0 TDs. (In 2015, his numbers were: 19 carries, 31 yards, 1 TD; in 2014: 21 carries, 79 yards, 0 TD. Mr. Fournette must have nightmares about large, fast men, clad in crimson and while, chasing him relentlessly.) Even if we take away QB Danny Etling’s -16 yards rushing, the LSU ground attack would have generated only 48 yards.

After any stellar defensive game, it’s a good idea to look at how punting affected field position.   In this contest, Bama and LSU punting efforts – by kickers and cover men alike – were nothing short of spectacular.

LSU       8 punts     average – 42.0 yards     longest – 51 yards     2 punts returned for 1 yard

Bama   6 punts     average – 51.6 yards     longest – 66 yards     3 punts returned for 16 yards

Field goals determined the outcome. Auburn’s Daniel Carlson – who also handled kickoff duties – went into the contest 6-for-6 and came out 12-for-12. He was successful three times from 29 yards and from distances of 31, 37 and 51 yards. (Carlson was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award in 2015 and will surely be so again this season.) His counterpart, Colby Delahoussaye, made two of three field goal attempts, scoring from 25 and 19 yards.

  BAMA LSU   AUBURN LSU
OFFENSIVE BALANCE          
Total plays 70 51   75 59
Total yards 323 125   388 338
Yards/play 4.6 2.5   5.2 5.7
           
Rushes 51 27   49 32
Percentage of plays 72.9% 52.9%   65.3% 54.2%
Rushing yards 216 33   154 220
Percentage of yards 66.9% 26.4%   39.7% 65.1%
           
Passes 19 24   26 27
Percentage of plays 27.1% 47.1%   34.7% 45.8%
Passing yardage 107 92   234 118
Percentage of yards 33.1% 73.6%   60.3% 34.9%

 

Bama was clearly focused on the run, on offense and defense, against LSU. Running plays accounted almost 73% of play selections and just over two-thirds of the total yards that Bama gained. Bama achieved a massive +183 margin in rushing yards. The Tide outgained LSU marginally on passing plays (+15 yards), but was able to do so on five less attempts, a good thing against a secondary with LSU’s talent. Your basic fewer passes = lower risk situation.

Auburn, in contrast, threw one less pass than LSU (26 – 27), but the margin in passing yards was +116, almost doubling what LSU gained through the air (234 – 118). Auburn did not emphasize the passing game (only 34.7% of the play calls), but the aerial effort delivered just over 60% of Auburn’s total yardage for the afternoon. Excellent “return on investment” right there.

By comparison, Auburn’s running game was (no pun intended) pedestrian. 154 yards against an LSU defense is not bad, but 3.1 yards per carry is not going to sustain enough drives to win. LSU got 66 more yards on 32 fewer running plays.   Leonard Fournette did not play, but Kerryon Johnson stepped up big time, contributing 93 yards on 22 caries (4.2 yards/carry; longest run – 14 yards).

  BAMA LSU   AUBURN LSU
PENALTIES          
Number / yards 6 / 29 3 / 20   5 / 50 4 / 28
           
TURNOVERS          
Fumbles lost 1 0   1 1
INTs 1 1   0 0

 

Bama prevailed despite more penalties (6 – 3 ) and one additional turnover. It helped that the six turnovers only cost the Tide 29 yards. An interesting coincidence – both games had a total of nine penalties called. In each contest, LSU was whistled fewer times and had the turnover advantage.