A quick heads-up: my Ballot Business post from this morning was miscategorized and showed up elsewhere on the site. If you haven’t seen it, follow the link above.
Just a few quick things I think bear mentioning …
Byrum isn’t the only positive on the special teams. When you see that Auburn ranks 102nd in net punting, it’s easy to think that Clinton Durst and the punt team are yet another hole in the ever-leaky special teams boat that Jay Boulware will have to plug.
But here’s the thing: when you’ve only lined up for 14 punts all season, having one of those punts go for zero yards is going to throw the stat line way out of whack. Durst hasn’t been spectacular, exactly–there was the shank against Miss. St. and the useless late touchback with the game on the line against West Virginia–but it’s still been near-impossible to get a return going against him. Only two of Durst’s punts have been returned at all, and one of them (vs. WVU) went for nothing.
In fact, if you take the Miss. St. game–and its touchback, block, shank, and 37-yard return–out of the equation, Auburn’s punt team has been just about spectacular. Net punting vs. La. Tech: 41.0. Vs. WVU: 40. Vs. BSU: 43.5. When anything over 40 gets you into the national top 15, yeah, that’s pretty freaking good.
So the question, then, is whether the Miss. St. meltdown is something that has a chance of repeating itself or a one-off fluke. If it’s the latter–and 3 out of 4 excellent performances suggest it is–Auburn will have two pegs on which to hang its special teams hats.
Remember: the defense has to be judged on yards-per-play. Entering the year we expected Auburn’s defense to have to play more snaps than usual, because Gus Malzahn’s hyperdrive demands it. And sure enough, between both playing oppsite the Spread Eagle 2.0 and showing a maddening inability to get off the field on third down, Auburn’s defense ranks 21st in the country in most plays, uh, played. (That’s second in the SEC, behind only–intriguingly–LSU.)
So if you’re going by total defense–where the Tigers are 41st–of course Auburn’s going to look a little bit worse than they are. More plays always equals more yards. Scoring defense is even more misleading–it includes the short-field scores by Ball St., the blocked punt for TD vs. Miss. St., etc.
The better defensive question is how much Auburn’s giving up by the play, and in that metric Auburn currently ranks 30th. That’s still not anything to do cartwheels over, what with the Tigers having already faced two very moribund offenses in La. Tech and Ball St., but as I’ve said before, when it comes opposite a Malzahn offense it’s good enough.
(In the interest of fairness, yes, the Auburn offense’s totals are also somewhat inflated by the Malzahnian pace. But they’re still fifth in the country per-play, so pretty much incredible however you slice it.)
im in ur top-3, killin ur all-SEC chances. There’s a hundred different ways of explaining Auburn’s offensive dominance statistically, but here’s a fun one: after the Ball St. game, Auburn has both two of the top 3 rushers in the SEC and two of its top 3 receivers. That, my friends, is balance.
(OK, so that’s by total yards and not by the more fair yards-per-game, but even in the latter, Tate, McCalebb, Adams, and Zachery are all in the top 5, so it’s still hella impressive.)