Statistics Offer Clue As To Expectations

Where does one look for the answer as to how the Alabama-Auburn football game will be resolved? The 11 games of the 2014 season that have gone before for the Tide and Tigers? The history of the rivalry? Revenge? Motivation? Coaching? Statistics? Probably none of the above is THE factor, and yet all of it will play a role in this year’s game.

Alabama (10-1 overall and 6-1 in Southeastern Conference games) and Auburn (8-3, 4-3) have different motivations this year. Auburn, which won last year’s SEC championship on the strength of its win over Bama, is out of the conference and national championship races this year. The Crimson Tide, which could have been in the SEC Championship Game a year ago with a win at Auburn, is still alive, indeed considered the favorite to win Saturday’s game against the Tigers, the SEC Championship, and the national title in the inaugural season of the College Football Playoff.

That road begins with a huge hurdle for the Tide: the in-state rivalry game against an Auburn team that gets at least as much pleasure from the misery it causes Alabama as it does from its achievement. The teams will play at 6:45 p.m. CST Saturday with ESPN televising the game from Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

One can visualize former Alabama Coach Gene Stallings, short tomahawks with each hand, exhorting, “You’ve got to be able to run the ball and you’ve got to be able to stop the run.” And that is the obvious place to start in a statistical comparision look at Tide and Tigers.

Auburn leads the SEC in rushing offense at 266.2 yards per game, while Alabama is best in rushing defense, allowing just 85.3 yards per game. The Tide is fifth in rushing at 204.9 yards per game, the Tigers seventh in rushing defense, giving up 142.5 yards per game.

The usual statistical comparison with which to start is scoring, but there’s not much difference. In 11 games this year Auburn has scored one more point than Alabama, 386 to 385, or 35.1 per game for the Tigers, 35.0 for the Tide, ranking fourth and fifth. Defensively, Bama is second in the league, giving up 14.5 points per game, and Auburn is ninth, allowing 23.5.

Alabama is third in passing offense, 279.9 yards per game, and Auburn eighth, 210.2 ypg, and the Tide is fourth in pass defense, giving up 198.2 and the Tigers are 12th, allowing 232.5. In passing efficiency, Alabama is third and Auburn fourth, and in defensive efficiency, the Tide is fourth, Tigers 10th.

That makes Alabama second in total offense at 484.8 yards per game and Auburn just behind, third at 476.4. Defensively, the Tide is first, allowing 283.5 yards per game, the Tigers ninth, giving up 375.

In kicking situations, Alabama leads Auburn in punting, kickoff coverage, and kickoff returns, while the Tigers lead in punt returns and field goals.

Many coaches claim to not pay as much attention to things like rushing and passing statistics, but a lot of attention to third down efficiency, turnover margin, and Red Zone (from the 20 to the goalline) success.

On third down, Auburn leads the league at 54.7 per cent (81-148) success, with Alabama second at 86-163 for 52.8 per cent. Defensively, Bama is fifth, holding opponents to 34.8 per cent (57-164), Auburn seventh at 35.7 per cent (56-157).

Auburn has the advantage in turnover margin. The Tigers are plus one (gained five fumbles and 16 interceptions for 21 takeaways, lost 12 fumbles and six interceptions for 18 turnovers). Bama is minus three with 15 takeaways (six fumble recoveries, nine interceptions) and 16 turnovers (12 lost fumbles, four passes intercepted).

Auburn is also better in the Red Zone. The Tigers score 87.2 per cent of the time (33 touchdowns and 8-9 field goals for 41-47) and the Tide is 82.4 per cent (32 touchdowns and 9-10 field goals for 42-51). On defense, Auburn has allowed scored on just 68.9 per cent of opponent opportunities (23 touchdowns and 8-13 field goals for 31-45) and Bama has allowed 79.3 per cent (12 touchdowns, 11-12 field goals for 23-29).

There are some other areas of interest. Alabama has been best in the league in guarding against sacks, giving up 10 for 72 yards, with Auburn right behind, allowing 12 for 82 yards. The Tide is sixth in sacking opponents, 26 for 178 yards, with Auburn 10th, 19 for 158 yards.

Alabama is fifth in being penalized, 60 for 486 yards, 44.2 yards per game, and Auburn is last, 75 penalties for 756 yards, 68.7 per game.

In time of possession, Alabama averages 32:04, Auburn 29:46.

Individually, Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne leads the league in rushing at 127.7 yards per game. The Tide’s Amari Cooper leads the SEC in pass receptions per game and in receiving yards pr game as he had 90 receptions for 1,340 yards. Bama’s JK Scott leads the league in punting, averaging 46.8 yards per game, while the Tigers’ Quan Bray is the top punt return man, 15 returns for 272 yards (18.1 average) and two touchdowns.

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