We have realized that in hindsight some of you were confused by last week’s column in which we showed a meat grinder logo and discussed Auburn’s schedule. But after Saturday’s events in the SEC and Auburn’s domination of the boys from Red Stick, the lesson is clear: The 2014 Auburn Tigers are the meat grinder and the rest of the SEC is going to be ground chuck.
What did we learn from LSU?
The 2014 Auburn defense has dramatically improved. In the glow of making the national championship game many Auburn fans have forgotten how poor the 2013 defense was. The 2014 defense isn’t the “high wire act” the 2013 defense was – relying on huge red zone stops of the opposing offense every time. This year’s defense is much more likely to stop the other team before they get anywhere near the red zone.
Here is a snapshot of the 2013 Auburn defense compared with the 2014 version:
The defensive improvement is evident from the numbers above. The one area where Auburn has declined is one that was predicable – Auburn isn’t getting as much pass rush and as many sacks. But if the rest of the numbers hold up that won’t matter.
In its first two games against SEC opponents the Auburn defense faced 3rd down on 24 occasions. The other team only converted TWICE in 24 attempts. Forget everything you know about how great the Auburn offense is – that is championship level defensive performance.
Also, the defensive coaches are still making excellent adjustments to what the other team is doing and the Auburn defense is getting better after halftime. In the first half against Auburn teams are averaging 3.58 yards per carry. In the second half it is 1.93 yards per carry. In the first half opposing quarterbacks are completing 58% of their passes for 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 119 (equivalent to the 88th best passing team in the country). In the second half against opposing quarterbacks are completing 52% of their passes for zero touchdowns and 3 interceptions with a passer rating of 92.6 (equivalent to the 124th best passing team in the nation). Part of the second half improvement is that Auburn is playing more players at linebacker and in the secondary during the game and key players are fresher during the 4th quarter.
Against LSU on Saturday night the Auburn defense confused a freshman quarterback making his first start and took away the running game. The Auburn defense felt abused and pushed around after its mauling by Jeremy Hill last year in Baton Rouge and wanted payback. They got it.
On offense the biggest spark was the return of Auburn receiver Sammie Coates to play maker form. LSU came into the game attempting to take away Duke Williams, who had become the security blanket of the Auburn offense. But with Coates back playing well the entire offense started to click. It almost seemed as if he had been frozen and come back to life to save the day……
DOWNLOAD A HI-RES VERSION HERE. (Please don’t have Sammie America autograph it for you, not yet. Or at least don’t pay him to. Neckey could probably use a few bucks, though. Those shirts aren’t cheap.)
What do we need to know about MSU?
- The Mississippi State defense is talented and very experienced. Compared to the other teams Auburn has faced this year they are also very large. Last year this team held Auburn to 120 yards rushing and 3.3 yards per carry; (the next best team held Auburn to 213 yards and 4.1 per carry. Auburn won the game by passing all over MSU in Nick Marshall’s biggest day of the year. This year’s MSU team seems more vulnerable to the pass than the run. MSU is last in the SEC in pass defense and has given up 23 passing plays of 20+ yards (tied for most in the SEC). So we expect Nick Marshall and the Auburn receivers to have a big day.
- Dak Prescott is an excellent player who is much better than he was when he faced Auburn last year. And last year he had 346 total yards against Auburn! Prescott is a more accurate passer this season and is much more dangerous in the pocket. As Auburn learned last year he is difficult to bring down when he decides to run as well. Unlike the young LSU quarterbacks Auburn faced last weekend, Prescott won’t be easily rattled or confused. He is poised and confident and will make plays for his team. Auburn’s best defense is simply sure tackling in the open field.
- In many ways MSU is a team is the opposite of last week’s LSU team. LSU had 29 four or five star players on its depth chart but not much SEC game experience at many positions. MSU has nine 4 or 5ive star players on its depth chart but the most experienced roster in the SEC. MSU has talent, but they also have lots of players who are older and more physically developed and have been through the SEC wars. They are the equivalent of an NCAA tournament basketball team with 8 seniors on it who have played 100+ games together.
- But the one thing MSU hasn’t done yet is perform in a super high profile situation with the whole nation watching. Yes, they hosted Texas A&M last week – in the noon kickoff game. This is a home CBS game with ESPN Game Day on campus and the Sports Illustrated cover story out this week. All week long the MSU team has heard everyone tell them that they are the greatest thing ever – can they handle success? Have they been as focused all week as they will need to be against a team like Auburn? No team in the country has played more top 10 teams in the last year than Auburn.
Van made a great comparison on our podcast this week: This game will be like the 2010 Auburn LSU game. It will be a true heavy-weight bout with two excellent teams playing well and trading punches. MSU is going to make plays against Auburn on both sides of the ball. But the difference in the game will be Auburn’s passing game breaking out and the overall experience of this Auburn team in huge games and pressure situations. Will it faze this Auburn team to be behind in Starkville with a bunch of MSU fans ringing bells at them? Not at all. Auburn wins 27-24.
The Wishbone Power Rankings
Auburn (Bring it on Dan Mullen.)
The Very Good:
MSU (A reality check is coming, but reality just may be that this is the second best team in the SEC.)
Ole Miss (Will they have a letdown at College Station??)
Bama (Gee, what happened to Lane Kiffin, super genius?)
Texas A&M (that South Carolina win looks less and less impressive every week. And the defense is still awful.)
Arkansas (For one week we are all on Team Bert.)
Georgia (Without Gurley? We probably need to drop them down 2-3 spots.)
Missouri (Your 2014 SEC East Champion thanks to Mr. Autograph Hunter)
Florida (Look away)
Tennessee (The checkerboard pattern in the stands was nice, anyhow.)
Kentucky (Your 2014 SEC East runner up!)
LSU (I guess the Jordan-Hare grass did not contain any dramatic insights?)
South Carolina (So it was all just Clowney?)
Vanderbilt (James Franklin for SEC Coach of the Century.)
More MSU stuff:
* Mississippi State considered handheld mirrors, cow tails as replacement traditions when cowbells were banned in 1975
* Former AU quarterback Phil Gargis talks about the 1974 Auburn-Mississippi State game that led to cowbell ban
* Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon were stoked to watch Auburn beat Mississippi State in 1986 ‘Saturday Night Live’ episode
* Mississippi State fan sues Auburn, SEC over confiscated cowbell; calls rule ‘unconstitutional’
* Shug: ‘The cowbells have no place in college football’
* That time Mississippi State accused Auburn punter Terry Daniel of filling footballs with helium
* Watch Terry Bowden’s press conference response to 1993 MSU allegations that Auburn inflated football with helium
* ‘Did you say LSU or LS-PEW?’ Katy Perry uses corn dogs to pick Auburn over LSU in bizarre ESPN GameDay appearance
* Twelve years later, Syracuse sports writer who was ‘Changed Forever’ by Auburn gameday experience reflects on his most popular column ever
* ‘Jeopardy’ contestant whose ‘Cheers’-referencing final response went viral wishes she’d written ‘War Eagle’
* Recent Auburn grad featured in ABC News segment on professional Viners
* Fore Eagle! Auburn fan Zach Manning describes the moment he found Rory McIlroy’s tee shot in his shorts pocket
* Teen who poured her Auburn soul out after wisdom teeth extraction recovering nicely, dishes dirt on Dayton
* What was the probability of an Auburn win before each snap of the 2013 Iron Bowl? Now we know.