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!

 

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