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Per the Data: Why beating Auburn will be rather difficult

Kevin Steele will make life very, very hard on Saturday.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 05 Auburn at Florida Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Perhaps I was too optimistic last week in discussing how much our defense had improved from last season until now. After all, the team is still 3-5.

This week is a return to reality for Ole Miss fans.

18th in marginal explosiveness

It’s tough enough to get past Auburn’s defensive front, but when you do they tend to keep you from big plays. This is one area Ole Miss’ offense has exploited in recent weeks with Plumlee at QB and Ealy toting the rock. That backfield is scary fast, so they’ll need to break a couple of big plays to keep things close.

5th in points per scoring opportunity

Maybe the strongest part of this Auburn defense is their ability to bend but don’t break. They allow just 3.24 points per opponent’s trip inside the 40. When you remember a touchdown is worth seven, thats pretty good.

4th in rushing SP+

If you think Plumlee will start and get the lion’s share of the carries, this should concern you greatly. Auburn’s defensive front is stacked with future NFL players and once they get their hands on you, they’re bringing you down. Marlon Davidson, Big Kat Bryant, and Derrick Brown are all names you’ll hear for a long time on Sundays.

25th in stuff rate

The Rebels are 108th in offensive stuff rate. These two combine to mean Ole Miss ballcarriers are going to be fighting just to gain positive yardage.

9th in passing marginal explosiveness

Auburn’s defensive front gets the headlines, but their secondary is full of elite defenders as well. And they can fly. Teams struggle gaining big plays, and Auburn’s secondary makes them pay by having the 28th best havoc rate in the country for defensive backs.

6th inside the 10 success rate

Opponents are successful just 25.9 percent of the time down near the goal line against this Auburn defense. Their success from 21-to-30 yards is 10th nationally and 11-to-20 yards is 39th. All this means Auburn is exceptional when the field shortens. Bryant, Brown, and Davidson can really pin their ears back and get after the ballcarrier without worrying about things getting behind them. Ole Miss, in stark contrast, is 88th, 73rd, and 127th in those three areas. Let’s hope Luke Logan is on from 25-45 yards.

1st in kick return efficiency

This isn’t a stat I will look at normally, but anything a team is the best in the country, it’s worth giving it a little space. I am deep in the camp you should never carry the ball out of your own end zone. Unless you’re Jaylen Waddle, you’re likely going to get hit, hard, and cost your team yards. Again, the best case scenario for a normal kick returner is to run it out of the endzone, gain about 18-22 yards, and get hit. So you’ve cost your team three or more yards and you’ve risked injury on the play (kickoffs routinely rank as the most dangerous play in football)

Never run out of your own end zone (and call a fair catch too—that starts you at the 25 also). But, if the kick to the say, 5-yard line, and you absolutely must return it, then Auburn is pretty good at this. They average about 24 yards per return. If they’re catching it at the 5, that’s a starting field position of the 30, or even better if the kick was shorter. 5 yards a game may not seem like a lot, but it’s essentially an additional first down on average every two possessions. In a game with 12 possessions you just gave yourself an extra six first downs. That’s the difference in winning and losing games like Cal, Memphis, and Texas A&M.

15th in DL havoc rate

Auburn is lead by probably the best defensive lineman in the SEC in Marlon Davidson. He’s listed at 6’3 278 but looks like he’s somehow added weight without losing any quickness. The future first round pick has nine tackles-for-loss, 5.5 sacks, 9.5 run stuffs, and two forced fumbles. He may not be Chase Young, but he’s as disrupting as any player in the conference.