StatTiger: Winning With A Team Approach

Columnist Stuart Carter writes about what Auburn's new offensive coordinator mentioned as a key to winning college football games.

During Coach Scot Loeffler's initial press conference as Auburn's new offensive coordinator, he stressed the importance of having a team working in sync when it came to the three phases of a football game.

"We are going to build a system to get our play-makers the ball, and do everything in our power to make sure we are helping our defense and our special teams here at Auburn," Loeffler said.

Football is the ultimate team sport, which means consistency is needed in all phases of the game to field a successful team.

"I understand the mentality to win a championship is all based around great defense and great special teams, and it's our job as an offense to protect that defense," Loeffler said during his introduction press conference. "There will be times when one phase of the game must carry the team on a given Saturday, but the ultimate objective will be playing as a team."

Simply put, the offense is responsible for scoring no matter the method and schemes in place to accomplish this goal. The defense is responsible for preventing the opponent from scoring and solid special teams play is necessary to increase the probability of success for the offense and defense. According to Coach Loeffler, the way to do it is to team-oriented approach "It is not going to be about the offense, defense or special teams," he said.

If all three phases are hitting on all cylinders, it reduces the probability of one part of a team being overworked or short-handed. Auburn's head coach, Gene Chizik, is searching for synchronicity with his offense and defense, which should elevate the team's overall success on the field. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's defense could benefit from the 2012 goal of developing more of a team balance.

Since 1970 the over and under in scoring for an Auburn football game has been 43.9 points. The average over and under from 1992-2008 for an Auburn game was 45.0 points. During the past three seasons with Gus Malzahn as the offensive coordinator, Auburn's average "over and under" was 60.4 points.

Three of the five highest over and under scoring totals since 1970 came under Malzahn, which normally meant Auburn required more offensive points to defeat their opponent.

Though Auburn's scoring average under Malzahn was 34 points per game, it only accounted for 55.7 percent of the total points scored during the game. From 1970-2011 Auburn was responsible for 59.2 percent of the points scored during their games and from 2000-2007 it was 61.4 percent. Since 1970 there have been 18 Auburn teams that scored at least 60 percent of Auburn's "over & under," compiling a winning percentage of .823.

The ultimate goal of an offense is to score points and controlling "the over" in a game can be extremely important, too. From 2005-2011, 54.2 percent of the teams at the FBS level that finished in the Top 10 in time of possession also finished in the nation's Top 30 of total defense. Auburn's average finish nationally in time of possession between 2005 and 2008 was No. 42, but it translated to an average ranking of No. 18 in total defense.

From 2009-2011 Auburn's average ranking in time of possession on offense was No. 95 with an average finish of No. 69 in total defense. The Temple Owls were No. 13 in time of possession during the 2011 season with Loeffler as offensive coordinator. His team finished with a No. 12 ranking in total defense.

Last season Auburn and Temple each played 13 games, but the Owls' defense was on the field for 97 fewer plays than the Tigers. This equates to Auburn's defense playing 1.5 games more than the Temple defense.

Scot Loeffler is shown last season in Philadelphia coaching the Temple football team.

During the 2011 season Southeastern Conference teams defended an average of 66 plays per game. From 2009-2011 Alabama defended the fewest plays per game with an average of 59.2. Auburn was last in the conference during the same time period, defending an average of 70.9 plays per game.

Even if Auburn gives up 5.73 yards per play under VanGorder as the Tigers did in 2011 with Ted Roof as defensive coordinator, just shaving off five plays per game would erase nearly 30 yards allowed per game. Over the past three seasons Alabama's defense has defended 12 less plays per game than Auburn, which translates to the Auburn defense being on the field for an additional 2.3 games per season compared to Alabama.

During the three seasons under Roof, Auburn's defense had to defend more than 65 plays during a game, 70 percent of the time. Southeastern Conference defenses over the past three seasons have defended more than 65 plays in 50 percent of their games, placing Auburn at No.11 among the 12 SEC teams in that category.

Even though there were times the Malzahn offense could be a detriment to the Auburn defense, Roof's defense often struggled during the first half, long before fatigue could become the culprit. In conference play Roof's defense allowed 16.3 points per game during the first half and 11.9 points during the second half. Malzahn's offense might have dictated how often Auburn's defense took to the field, but it was still the responsibility of the defense to get off the field in a timely manner.

During the three seasons before Roof's arrival at Auburn, the defense forced a "3 & out" 32.5 percent of the time. During the three seasons under Roof, Auburn's "3 & out" percentage on defense dropped to 24.5 percent. Auburn's opponents converted 31.1 percent of their third downs from 2003-2005, 34.7 percent from 2006-2008 and 39.4 percent from 2009-2011. One of VanGorder's major tasks will be improving Auburn's third down defense in 2012.

The final phase of a football team is special teams, where Auburn has excelled the past two seasons. Since 1999 only 17.8 percent of the plays during an Auburn game were special teams related. Though only 29 of 161 plays during an average game are special teams related, they can enhance the performance of the offense and defense. Special teams play a major role in field position, which influences the frequency of scoring offense and scoring defense.

Over the past 20 seasons Auburn's opponents have scored on 25.6 percent of their possessions. Stretch the field to at least 80 yards away from the Auburn end zone and the opponents score on just 17.2 percent of their possessions. Shorten the field to just 50 yards away from the Auburn end zone and the opponents score 53.5 percent of the time. This is the very reason why touchbacks and punts inside the opposition's 20-yard line become vital. This is an area Auburn excelled in during 2011 and should again in 2012 with the return of both kickers.

Over 30 years ago Coach Pat Dye came to Auburn with the intent of building a football program that was strong and consistent. His plan of action included having a powerful running attack, a stout run defense and a strong kicking game. Though the game has changed since 1981 if a football team can is good in those areas it will win a lot of games.

Since 2000 Auburn is 52-4 in games it rushes for at least 140 yards while holding the opponent to under 120 yards rushing. Chizik, like Dye, wants a physical team that can run the football and play defense while polishing off the product with sound special teams.

Each phase of the game has a definite impact on the other, which means Loeffler and VanGorder must find the best means and method of making sure their respective units are not only performing well, but also complement the other phases of the team. All of Auburn's most successful teams during the history of the football program had the characteristic of feeding off the success from all three phases of the game.

Since 1992 Auburn is 119-3-1 when entering the fourth period with at least a seven-point lead and the Tigers are 7-43-0 when trailing by at least seven points. The focus for Loeffler and VanGorder should be execution, with the intent of doing what they do well early in games. This translates to Loeffler and VanGorder building their first units at Auburn around the strength of their personnel.

From 1981-2008 Auburn compiled a record of 66-1-0 when scoring at least 14 points in the first period. Under Malzahn and Roof, Auburn was 11-4-0. This is a clear indication Auburn found it difficult to be synchronized over the past three seasons. The offense can't always score 30 points and the defense can't always hold its opponent to under 20 points, which means to consistently win football games it needs to be a team effort, just like Loeffler says.

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