You’ve just got to love this Auburn football team.
And I mean beyond the baldly obvious, beyond the big golden-goose egg in the loss column and the three wins over decent-to-quality teams. Heck, that one obvious fact is frighteningly easy to overlook – plenty of folks have trouble taking it at face value, and perhaps that’s the natural impulse. For one, there are significant problems yet to be navigated. Most pertinently, the first half, which in every non-cupcake ballgame so far has ranged from “stalemate” to “trainwreck.” Close on its heels is the coverage, which has offered little challenge to three good-to-stellar quarterbacks and one half decent bulldog dichotomy. The linebacking, outside of Bynes, leaves much to be desired. The fumbles. The pass read progressions. The penalties that still bubble up at the worst possible moments.
Moreover, in the past few years Auburn has had its worst troubles down the stretch. Tony Franklin’s first half-season had us riding high at 4-1 before our slip off the edge of the canyon into 5-and-7-dom. Chizik’s first half-season was even better, 5-0, and we all know how that ended up: shellacked by the Razorbacks, cleaned out by Kentucky, and swept in Amen Corner with a dose of the Mad Hatter sandwiched in there for good measure. There exists a real – and truly reasonable – proclivity toward looking this gift horse in the mouth and seeing nothing but Sham, soon to be flagging behind Secretariat.
I understand that. I’m not rushing to conclusions here, either. If there’s anything the intertubes have taught me, it’s the value of measured approach. But: ever read about that famous 1973 Triple Crown? We rightly think of Secretariat as a dominant racehorse, but when you go back to tales of his victories, he doesn’t seem to have dominated every second of even his most famous races. In the 1973 Kentucky Derby, he came out of the gate dead last. But he kept running and running faster, and faster, and faster until he won the derby by two and a half lengths. He pulled the same crazy stunt in the Preakness, again breaking last but accelerating constantly and surging ahead, devouring the rest of the pack and winning again by two and a half lengths. It wasn’t until the Belmont that he, the “tremendous machine,” annihilated the rest of the field to the tune of a thirty-one length lead, a record set in the half-mile that stands today.
And what is this team good at, if not that incredible, roaring surge? Both on the offensive side of the ball, when Malzahn’s offense hits its eighty-play stride like it did this past week, and on the defensive side, when Roof’s boys tear through the opposing O-line, the safeties are crackin’ hats, and the ball is coming free to be fallen on. And all the while, Cam Newton can’t stop smiling, Dyer’s begging for the ball, and our defense is hitting. Sure, there are issues, real issues, and there is still poor play by some plainsmen, I don’t deny that, but what have we got? We have raw exuberance, worth two bruised opposing quarterbacks and twenty-one feet of pure flight. We have second-half follow-through like a landslide. We have a heart beating in this football team that is two and a half sizes too large for any horse and win or lose, I’d rather see this team on the field than almost any squad that Tubby fielded. Rip that ball out, run down field and score – give me more.
Did you catch that earlier? That horse that placed second in each of Secretariat’s historic sprints, his name was Sham. And we have dealt with some shams – some impostors – already this season. I have faith we’ll do it again. The plainsmen are still a very long way from their Belmont, from being the tremendous machine Auburn has the potential to be – but damn do I love to see these guys on the field. War Eagle.
On to the charts?
get on it!
Like a chicken on a june bug.
With all the various tools at my disposal for splitting-out and subsetting game data, there are a whole host of charts that can be (nigh-automatically) generated from week to week. This is better for you, intertubes readers, because there’s more info at your fingertips, but worse, too: the page is bound to be unwieldy to navigate, and there would be a lot of navigation needed to make sense of everything.
So this week – in keeping with the public-experiment feel of Spread Sheets – I’m trying out a new format for my charts. For one (thanks to you, reader “Learn to Internet”!) we are now internetting slightly properlier, having foregone the creaky ol’ .BMP image format in favor of the much smaller and swifter .JPEG. This should increase the speed at which your page loads, and decrease the speed at which I cram up the interwebs with images. For two, have a look at the shiny new report-like presentation, which should hopefully collect the info in a more meaningful fashion. And lastly, images will be grouped in a gallery instead of posted large-ways in-line with the text. Boom. Each set of topo maps – full teams, QB’s, and RB’s – is graphed on its own scale, because the QB averages ranged so widely that to scale all graphs identically would wash out all the detail. Click thumbnails to embiggen:
(By all means, let me know if this is lame / awesome – scroll down for your soapbox.)
You’ll notice that the game progress line (the running total) goes along with the topo maps. Reason why this is so important: bring up the chart for when USC had the ball and take a look at that third quarter, in which their average gain of 22.67 and 24.5 adjusted yards per play on first and second down (holy smokes) easily eclipses all the other full-team data points. You could point to Garcia’s third-quarter numbers and draw the same conclusions – they’re 67 and 24.5. Why? Having watched that third quarter, I would agree were you to say that don’t make no kind ‘a sense.
Numbers don’t lie, but they can kind of monkey’s-paw you if you ask questions nonspecifically, or if you don’t look to where their answers are coming from. Pertinently, the arithmetic mean on which my topo maps are built is sensitive to a statistical outlier, which in this case is a third quarter that saw the Gamecocks run exactly six plays, one of which was a long pass to Alshon “Twice the Size of Our Starting Corner Dammit” Jeffery and the other was the touchdown pass to Gurley, play after next. If you take those two bald outliers out of the calculation, South Carolina managed a titanic -3.3 on four plays, two for not much, one for nothing and one an enormous sack.
This is not to say that score was meaningless, or that it wasn’t a lapse by our defense – we can’t and won’t minus out our misbehavin’ with all them ciphers*. But the full story of the second half is that when the Auburn defense wasn’t giving up three-play drives for seventy yards and seven points (which it did only once,) it played a tune of sack, sack-for-fumble, sack-for-fumble, interception, interception, and it played it on Spurrier’s temples with a ball peen hammer. And the offense had every play but six in the third quarter – The raw arithmetic mean doesn’t tell the whole story here.
So keep that in mind and feel free to switch liberally from modality to modality.
First of all, check out the QB’s. Newton and Garcia stayed neck-and-neck almost the entire game, with Cam getting it done on the ground and Garcia mostly through the air. Then the second half happened. Cam, obviously, continued to blow the heck up. But Garcia? Aside from that freak scoring drive (which, delightfully, put their slackening defense on the field without much wind in their sails) Garcia looks like a total wreck. But Conner Shaw is even more of a train wreck – is there anyone outside of Spurrier’s furious brain that expected anything less from the true-frosh? Sure, Garcia went right under the bus as the Ol’ Ballcoach’s quarterbacks are wont to do when things aren’t going his way. But Shaw got pushed out of the bus, onto the freeway and by the freeway I mean the downtown connector through Atlanta at 5:00 PM. Yow. Welcome to the SEC, kiddo.
One question: why, ballcoach, why? One would think that when the quarterback is swarmed by six to eight hundred pounds of muscle in blue jerseys and has the ball knocked loose on consecutive drives, that some fault ought to rest with the offensive line, the protection scheme, the ability of his guardians at least to fall on the damn ball. Moreover, fumbles of that nature ought not to string themselves together like interceptions might – this is the kind of thing that a seasoned QB should be made to shake off and fight through. And yet the true frosh gets tossed out on the field to have Bynes read his eyes like a comic book and then to throw to a triple-covered receiver who gets his brain rattled, dropping the ball into Demond Washington’s (damn athletic) hands. Bad, bad, bad decision, even given Spurrier’s propensity for benching an underperforming QB so to give him a double-earful – why?
And to that I say “2006.” That last time these teams squared off, Spurrier about had an aneurysm when Auburn took every last snap in the third quarter. Imagine how irritated he must have been when he got all of six plays in this year’s iteration. Seriously, conjure up in your mind that level of peak frustration. Bask in the glow for a second. Maybe it doesn’t explain everything but it sure is fun to think on.
It must be noted, too, that the intermediate pass routes had a good bit to do with our success last night. This offense seems to live by the rush but die by the incomplete pass, and while I’m as happy as you to see another Cam-to-Zachery bomb, sometimes what we need is just to move the ball, plain and simple. Whether those routes were called more frequently, were more open, were identified more often, or some combination thereof, I couldn’t tell you why**. But for whatever reason, they were there, and when Cam threw accurate balls, Auburn connected and the Tigers were in business.
The RB’s are no surprise to anyone. McCalebb had an as-typical good night. Mike Dyer, unfortunately, gets defined by his fumble in the first half but kept rollin’ down the mountain in the second half and (if not for the fumble) would have turned out a perfectly fine game. And Marcus Lattimore still has yet to show up at Auburn. We’re waiting, Marcus.
And Mario – one carry, one fumble = H back, and it’s a good thing he’s so dangerous with a wheel. I can’t bear even to graph his single number (and besides he throws the scale way off.)
Take all the data together now, and look at the full-team charts. The first half for Auburn’s offense was – in my opinion – fairly good. Sure, they weren’t rolling up and down the field but Malzahn’s system isn’t expected to do that right out of the gate. What killed us were the little mistakes – two fumbles and one dropped first down by Kodi Burns that ended drives before they even got off the ground. If one imagines how the first half might have been altered had one or two of those mistakes not been made, it’s easy to understand them as point errors and not systemic problems. Especially given the second half. It must be said at this point that Auburn, in second half of this football game, looked exactly like they are supposed to look: they laid demonic siege to the backfield, forced turnovers, and then steamrolled the opposing defense with rush after rush after rush after rush. If there is a platonic ideal to which the Malzahn / Roof combo may aspire – to what football itself ought to aspire – we came pretty damn close last Saturday. The charts demonstrate that (again, we’ve talked about the third quarter and the vagaries of the arithmetic mean.) So what made the difference between the two halves?
I don’t think it was the offense, which in the first half was three details short of contention. I chalk it up to Ted Roof. A sack and two fumbles forced from the quarterback? The defensive line ate the Gamecocks alive in the second half. Add to it the two interceptions, one by a wily veteran linebacker victimizing the rookie, and one due to Etheridge blasting a receiver and Washington making a fantastic catch. These guys played great. They kept the garnet and black on defense, which allowed Malzahn to execute his tempo, which got Dyer running downhill, allowed Cam to blast away, and set up that playaction pass to the Swede Killa off that nifty little kick-block-to-flare-route look. It all had to start on Roof’s side of the ball and in the second half, his boys delivered.
Give me more. Here’s our game progress line, season-to-date:
Next week gives us La-Mo, whom I won’t attempt to preview. But as time allows, I’ll try to keep the data current for our opponents, and hopefully be able to give y’all a little before with your after. Keep your fingers crossed and War Damn Eagle!
* There are statistical measures which are less sensitive to outliers, such as the median, which some folks have used instead of the mean. However, median statistics aren’t exactly appropriate for football. Example: when you measure NFL running backs by their median yards gained per rush instead of their average (mean) yards per rush, they all look practically identical. This is because almost every running play seems to go for between three and four yards. As such, greatness for a running back is defined by big-play potential, rather than the ability to get a predictable three or four on most of his carries – greatness is a measure of how good your outliers are. Thus, statistics that are insensitive to outliers don’t necessarily give us a faithful analysis. Given that paradox, it seems best simply to compute the mean and be wary for confounding factors such as, “Auburn holds the ball almost the entire third quarter and gives up what would turn out to be a freak score.”
** Because the stupid TV coverage doesn’t show you what’s going on downfield. The more I come to know the game, the less a TV broadcast can substitute for being in the stadium.
John Magruder is a doctor or something, somewhere up North. He has been going to Auburn games since before he was born. He was in –Legion Field- utero when Bo went over the top. Some mothers play Mozart to their developing progeny. John was raised on the roars of the Tiger faithful. You can chart his growth with his fantastic column, God, Girl, Grill, Gridiron, and write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Van Emst photo via.
You Can’t Handle Ted Roof via, of course, Patrickthetiger.