clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Auburn is surging on both sides of the football

Despite some stumbling out of the gate, Gus Malzahn’s team has hit its stride.

Mississippi State v Auburn Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

After a 66-3 slaughter at the hands of Nick Saban, one would hope for some relief in the form of a much easier matchup the following Saturday. That’s obviously not the case, as Ole Miss limps into Auburn to take on a squad that’s peaking on a few different levels.

The Tigers’ ugly loss to Clemson prompted immediate concern over their offense, especially over the fact that they gave up 11 sacks. It turns out that Clemson boasts one of best defenses in the country, and judging by how things have gone since then, that Week 2 skirmish may have just served as growing pains for transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham and new coordinator Chip Lindsay.

Meanwhile, Kevin Steele’s defense looks like the best Auburn has had in years, ranking fifth overall in Defensive S&P+. They’ve quickly shooed away worries over depth, and haven’t given up more than 14 points in a game yet this season.

Given that Ole Miss has yet to establish a threatening identity, they’re not a likely candidate to provide a rude awakening for a much-improved Auburn team.

Jarrett Stidham’s starting to get comfortable.

Auburn put up a combined 100 points against Missouri and Mississippi State, and five turnovers against Mercer hid how easily they were able to move down the field (50% success rate). If they even come close to sustaining their performance from the last three weeks, they’ll finish as a top-10 offense.

While Auburn’s generally been known more for a brutal rushing attack in recent years, they’ve been more successful through the air in 2017. Here are Jarrett Stidham’s splits this season, comparing his first two games to the last three.

Game Completions Attempts Completion % Yards Yds/Attempt Yds/Completion Success Rate
Game Completions Attempts Completion % Yards Yds/Attempt Yds/Completion Success Rate
First Two 27 62 44% 181 2.9 6.7 29%
Last Three 58 73 79% 823 11.3 14.2 59%
Sacks count as pass attempts.

In terms of passing success rate, the Tigers have improved from 101st in 2016 to 36th in 2017, and this season’s figure of 45% is weighed down from scheduling Clemson. After possession receiver Ryan Davis’ 30 catches, the next target has just 12, but Auburn has four different weapons in the rotation who are averaging over 20 yards per catch.

To have a shot last week, the Rebels needed to generate negative plays and force Jalen Hurts into obvious passing situations, and couldn’t get it done. It’s hard to imagine them suddenly putting pressure on a better quarterback in Stidham.

Injuries in the backfield have kept the run game from similarly taking off, but they’re fully capable of showing out on the ground as well. Even if Kamryn Pettway still isn’t healthy, both Kerryon Johnson and Kam Martin can do damage in the open field. It could be a long day for Ole Miss.

Auburn’s defensive front is still a problem for Ole Miss.

One of the primary question marks for the Tigers heading into 2017 was how they’d replace all the production along the defensive line that had departed, mainly that of Carl Lawson (13.5 tackles for loss in 2016). In short, they’re doing just fine.

Auburn has actually gotten better when it comes to pressuring the quarterback, doubling how often they’re sacking the quarterback on standard downs compared to last year. Out of the guys who needed to step up immediately, Jeff Holland has already surpassed his 2016 numbers with 3.5 sacks and five run stuffs (runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage) on the year.

What makes this group stand out from prior Auburn defenses is the balance - they’re sixth in rushing success rate and 22nd in passing. Ole Miss’ only real hope of putting up points against them is through big plays, but the Tiger defense also ranks fourth in IsoPPP (Bill C.’s measure for explosiveness). Even if they do move the ball, Auburn is the best team in the country in terms of preventing opponents from finishing drives, allowing just 2.3 points per scoring opportunity (trips inside the 40).

Barring some 11 a.m. CT weirdness, it feels absurd to hope for a win on Saturday. The shellacking from Alabama lowered the bar for many this season (as low as it already was), so showing life at any point in the game against a flat-out better team would be something.