Auburn is undefeated. Auburn is the #1 team in the BCS standings right now. Auburn is led by an adamantium skeletoned, nimble footed, sure armed athlete of to-be-legendary proportions. But Auburn has not been a 100% overwhelmingly dominant foe. Oh yes, they're good, and they're likely to do very dirty, inhuman things to our Rebels - especially our Rebel defenders on Saturday - but there are more than a few reasons why we at the Cup haven't completey run out of optimism for this weekend, most prominently of which is the fact that Auburn has struggled to defeat their away opponents thus far.
The Tigers' schedule is a bit unusual this season in that, once the year winds up, they'll have played eight home games. All four of their road games are against SEC opponents, and only one is against a team from the SEC East. See:
- September 9, 2010 - Auburn 17, Mississippi State 14
- October 9, 2010 - Auburn 37, Kentucky 34
- October 30, 2010 - Auburn vs. Ole Miss
- November 27, 2010 - Arn Bow
Alabama date aside, that's not a terribly menacing road schedule, yet the Tigers struggled to defeat the Horrible Hamlet Hounds (swidt?) and the Wildcats, winning those matchups each by three points late in the 4th quarters. After the jump, I'm gonna look at some numbers and maybe discern exactly why this is so, hoping to impart on you, the reader, some sort of broad-schemed "key to the game" or whatever trite expression you wish to use.
Aaaaand I looked, and there really wasn't much I could gather. There were some interesting statistical deviations, but nothing that shot out at me anc cried "here's what you're looking for; here's Auburn's weakness in convenient, numerical form!" But, for the sake of the argument and the post itself, let's go game by game and look at what allowed Kentucky and State to hang with the top-ranked Tigers.
First, Mississippi State. After a late Bulldog drive capped by a wobbly fourth down Chris Relf pass to nowhere-istan, Cameron Newton and the Tigers were able to escape Starkville with a relieved grin on their faces. Oh, and they won too. But the game was an absolute nailbiter from beginning to end. State fans, bitter that Cameron Newton's dad didn't want to send his son to Mississippi State - he's unknowingly a good Rebel - and excited for the start of the SEC season, loudly and proudly filled Davis Wade Stadium and rang the figurative and, in some cases, perhaps literal dog shit out of their bells. It wasn't an easy environment to get a win, especially on a Thursday night, but Auburn managed.
Where did State go right? They held Auburn to a mere 190 yards rushing. Auburn averages a whopping 303.2 rushing yards a game and, last week, put up over 400 on the vaunted LSU Tigers D. State, along with ESPN Thursday night juju, limited the typically tenacious Tiger ground game.
Where did State go wrong? They only put up 129 yards passing, which is well below the 248.9 passing yards the Auburn defense relenquishes on average. But, remember, Chris Relf is their quarterback, and that guy absolutely sucks at throwing things.
Of less significance, but still noteworthy, is Auburn's two turnovers. State also turned over the ball twice, which hurts, but Auburn has only a couple games with multiple turnovers this season making such an occurence worth mentioning.
Kentucky, on the other hand, played about as typically as any opponent Auburn has had thus far. Kentucky rushed for 110 yards and passed for 226, numbers which aren't very different from Auburn's averages of 103.4 and 248.9 yards respectively. Interestingly enough, Auburn performed in a similarly typical fashion, rushing for 311 yards (the average again is 303.2) and passed for 210 (average is 183.5). The differencemakers, oddly enough, were penalty yards and return yardage. Auburn averages around 6 penalties for 56 yards a game, but committed 8 for 87 yards against Kentucky. Additionally, Auburn typically gives up about 139 special teams yardage a game (you get to kickoff a lot when you score a lot, so this only makes sense), but gave up 182 such yards against Kentucky at an average of around 25 yards a return. Kentucky's average starting field position on the night was their own 36 yard line; Auburns was their own 22.
But, honestly, these stats are a bit of a reach anyway. I tried to figure out what it would take to, at least, keep Saturday's game close, but there's no difinitive means to that end. But let's propose one anyway.
It seems that, if we combine the strategies or, rather, good fortunes (?) of State and Kentucky, we could say that an Ole Miss victory would most likely rely on the Rebels slowing the Auburn rushing attack - a tall order in and of itself - while using good special teams play to give us an advantage in field positioning. Furthermore, Auburn would need to commit more than the usual number of penalties and turn the ball over a few times. Improbable? Yes, very. But impossible? Not at all.