Jason Caldwell

Stat Tiger Column: Previwing And Analyzing the Auburn vs. Memphis Football Bowl Game

Stuart Carter crunches the numbers in his StatTiger column to predict what will happen when the Auburn Tigers take on the Memphis Tigers in the Birmingham Bowl.

Shon Coleman (above) is Auburn's starting left tackle and is a native of Memphis.

Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3) at Birmingham Bowl

Series: Memphis leads 2-0.

Last Meeting: (1976) Memphis 28-27

The Matchup: 11 a.m. CST, Wednesday, Legion Field, Birmingham

About the teams:

  • Darrell Dickey, the interim head coach for Memphis at the Birmingham Bowl, is 42-64 as a head coach from his time at North Texas. He has been the Memphis offensive coordinator for the past four seasons.
  • Gus Malzahn is 35-16 all-time as a college head coach and 26-13 at Auburn.
  • Auburn ended its regular season with a 29-13 loss to Alabama and the Memphis Tigers finished their regular season with a 63-0 victory over SMU. 
  • Auburn is 22-15-2 in bowl games, including an 8-3 mark during its last 11 postseason games, and Memphis is 4-3 in bowl games. 
  • Memphis is 38-132-2 against teams from the Southeastern Conference, but defeated Ole Miss this season, 37-24.
  • Although Memphis defeated the Rebels this season, the team was 0-3 against its other ranked opponents, losing by an average score of 37-22.
  • Quarterback Paxton Lynch of Memphis is the No.7 rated passer in the country, averaging just under 306 yards per game. He has thrown for 28 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.
  • Jeremy Johnson leads Auburn in pass attempts with 156 and has thrown for nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. Sean White leads Auburn in passing yards with 1,064.
  • Doroland Dorceus leads Memphis in rushing with 613 yards at 4.3 per rush. Memphis has three other players with more than 300 yards rushing on the season.
  • Peyton Barber leads Auburn in rushing with 976 yards and 13 touchdowns. Jovon Robinson has been the primary rusher during Auburn’s last five games, racking up 513 yards at 5.7 yards per rush.
  • Memphis has three wide receivers with more than 40 receptions, led by senior Mose Frazier with 66 catches  for 750 yards. Anthony Miller has been the big-play threat for Memphis with 15.6 yards per reception on 44 catches.
  • Ricardo Louis leads Auburn in receiving with 45 catches for 699 yards. Marcus Davis is second catches with 28.
  • Linebacker Leonard Pegues leads the Memphis defense with 64 tackles, followed by Wynton McManis with 52 stops. Pegues also leads the defense in tackles for lost yardage with seven. Memphis is ranked No. 76 nationally in tackles for loss.
  • Rudy Ford leads the Auburn defense with 113 tackles on the season, which is second best in the Southeastern Conference. Kris Frost is No. 2 on the team with 90 tackles, which ranks No. 16 in the SEC. Cassanova McKinzy leads Auburn in tackles for lost yardage with 10. Auburn finished the regular season second to last nationally in tackles for losses.
  • Prior to its victory over Ole Miss this season, Memphis had lost 12 consecutive games to SEC teams by an average score of 37-15. 

How they match up...

Auburn is No. 33 nationally in run offense vs. FBS competition while Memphis is No. 37 in run defense vs. FBS competition.

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Peyton Barber is Auburn's leading rusher.

Memphis is No. 7 nationally in pass efficiency vs. FBS competition and will face an Auburn defense ranked No. 44 in pass efficiency defense against FBS opponents.

Memphis is No. 21 nationally in scoring offense vs. FBS teams with a winning record. It will face an Auburn team ranked No. 34 in scoring defense vs. FBS opponents with a winning record. 

Auburn is No. 71 in scoring offense vs. FBS teams with a winning record and will face a Memphis team ranked No. 76 in scoring defense vs. FBS competition with a winning record.

During its seven games vs. FBS teams with a winning record, Memphis allowed 165 yards rushing per game at 4.2 yards per carry.

Auburn is ranked No. 22 in pass efficiency defense against FBS teams with a winning record.

Keys to Victory...

Auburn must establish its running attack to control the tempo and line of scrimmage. This will be a challenge as Memphis has held its FBS opponents to 21 percent below their rushing averages. This projects Auburn to rush for 152 yards.

Auburn is 9-3 in bowl games when the Tigers rush for at least 200 yards in games from 1953-2014. During the same period Auburn is 16-0 in bowl games when it holds opponents to under 140 yards rushing.

Malzahn’s Tigers must limit the Memphis explosive pass offense, which is ranked No. 11 nationally with 96 impact plays. Auburn is No. 61 nationally in defending against impact plays.

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Rudy Ford is Auburn's leading tackler this season.

Auburn must make Memphis one-dimensional on offense by limiting the run. Memphis has averaged 186 yards rushing per game, eclipsing 200 yards on five occasions.

Winning the turnover battle will a primary key to victory in the Birmingham Bowl. Memphis enters the game No. 36 nationally in turnover margin vs. FBS teams with a winning record and Auburn is No. 54.

A good start for Auburn will be critical. During their last 24 bowl games the Tigers are 10-2-1 when not trailing on the scoreboard at halftime and 5-6-0 when they were behind at halftime.

What to Watch...

  1. From 1990-2015 Auburn is 12-20 in games it allows at least 150 yards rushing and 250 yards passing in the same game. During those 32 contests Auburn allowed an average of 35 points.
  2. From 1999-2015 Auburn is 16-2 in games the Tigers allowed more than 300 yards passing while holding their opponent below 100 yards rushing. The average score during those 18 games was 32-22.
  3. Memphis is No. 91 nationally in allowing impact plays on pass defense with 5.8 per game. This could generate opportunities for an Auburn pass offense struggling to generate such plays.
  4. Bowl games tend to favor the defense with the additional preparation time. If this is the case, red zone defense will be essential. Auburn is No. 38 in touchdown percentage allowed inside the red zone and Memphis is No. 75.
  5. This will be Malzahn’s ninth bowl game he has coached offensively. During his previous eight his offense averaged 480 yards and 36 points per game. This included an average of 10 impact plays per outing.
  6. Malzahn might elect to play both Jeremy Johnson and Sean White at quarterback in Wednesday’s game. For the season against Power-5 competition only, the Auburn offense has averaged 30.8 yards per possession at 5.23 yards per play with Johnson at quarterback. This includes a scoring percentage of 37.2 and a touchdown on 19.6 percent of his possessions. With White at quarterback the offense has averaged 31.8 yards per possession at 5.39 yards per play. Auburn scored on 39.6 percent of White’s possessions and scored a touchdown on 18.9 percent of his possessions.

Final Word...

Nearly two years ago the Auburn Tigers were preparing for a showdown against Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game. Now Auburn finds itself matched up against the Memphis Tigers in an attempt to avoid finishing with a losing record. It has been a long season, to say the least, and a victory over Memphis would be a positive note moving forward into 2016.

The loss of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and assistant Travaris Robinson could hurt the continuity on defense, which will be teamed up with an Auburn offense averaging 349 yards and 22 points per game against FBS teams with a winning record. 

Auburn's lack of explosiveness in its passing attack has been a primary issue during 2015. Last season the wide receivers accounted for 67 plays of 15 yards or more during 13 games. This season the wide receivers have produced 32 such plays through 12 regular season games.

Under Malzahn 54.4 percent of Auburn’s impact plays have come from passes. During the last four games of the regular season pass plays have only accounted for 42 percent of the offensive impact plays. Malzahn’s collegiate offense has averaged only 22 points when held to under seven impact plays. The 2015 offense has reached eight impact plays during a game only three times this season.

Auburn has scored no more than three offensive touchdowns during regulation against an FBS opponents with a winning record this season, which means the Tigers will likely need to keep Memphis under 30 points to win. Malzahn has a strong history in postseason action when it comes to offense. Memphis will likely be the more inspired team, taking on another SEC opponent. Auburn must overcome this emotional edge with its overall talent and execution on the field. During the last four recruiting classes, 98 percent of Auburn's players were 3-stars or better and 55 percent were 4-stars or more. Memphis failed to sign a single 4-star player and only 16 percent of its players signed were rated as 3-stars. Memphis has signed 25 junior college transfers to make up for their talent deficit. Look for Auburn's talent advantage to be enough to win a close contest. Auburn 31, Memphis 27

Around the Southeastern Conference:

No. 20 LSU over Texas Tech

Mississippi State over North Carolina State

Louisville over Texas A&M

No. 2 Alabama over No. 3 Michigan State

No. 23 Tennessee over No. 13 Northwestern

No. 14 Michigan over No. 19 Florida

No. 16 Oklahoma State over No. 12 Ole Miss

Georgia over Penn State

Arkansas over Kansas State

Season Record: 86-24

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