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Stuart Carter Analyzes Auburn's Offense, Defense & Special Teams Play Halfway Through the Football Regular Season

In his StatTiger column Stuart Carter of Inside the Auburn Tigers/AUTigers.com scouts the Auburn football team and makes his picks for this week's SEC games.

Sean White above is competing 69.7 percent of his passes this season.

Auburn (4-2) vs. Auburn (4-2)

Bye Week Statistical Evaluation

About the teams:

•Of the 22 major statistical categories in college football the 2016 Auburn Tigers have improved in 16 areas from the 2015 season.

•Auburn has the current No. 10 run-offense

•Auburn is No. 30 in pass efficiency

•Auburn is No. 22 in third down offense

•Auburn is No. 28 in total offense

•Auburn is No. 24 in third down defense

•Auburn is No. 1 in punt return defense

•Auburn is No. 5 in red zone defense (touchdown percentage)

•Auburn is No. 27 in pass efficiency defense

•Auburn is No. 12 in scoring defense

•Auburn is No. 29 in total defense

Keys to Victory:

Though Auburn has improved in 16 of 22 the categories, it is the remaining six it has regressed in that could determine how the team finishes the 2016 regular season.

•After going 4-2 during the first half of the season, Auburn closes the regular season with four conference opponents currently with winning records.

•Auburn is No. 116 in touchdown percentage inside the red zone. Red zone issues are magnified by a conservative offense averaging nearly 55 rush attempts per game.

•Auburn is No. 106 in tackles for loss allowed. After allowing 32 tackles for loss during the first three games, the offense has allowed only 11 during the last three games. 

•Auburn is No. 99 in kickoff return offense after finishing No. 4 nationally during 2015. Auburn has struggled this season creating short fields for the offense. The statistical goal is to generate a short field 15 percent of the time and Auburn is barely at five percent through six games.

•The Tigers are No. 70 in turnover margin primarily because the defense has forced very few of them through six games. Auburn was No. 29 two seasons ago.

•Auburn is No. 69 in kick return defense. However, that is not a concern because almost all of Daniel Carlson’s kickoffs are touchbacks.

•Auburn is No. 61 in punt return offense. The lack of big plays during is a concern because Auburn was 28th last year, No. 4 in 2014 and No. 23 during 2013. An improvement here is also an element of the game which can impact field position.

Watch to Watch:

•Auburn is allowing a play of 30 yards or more every 29.4 snaps, the second worst ratio of big plays allowed during the last 25 years of AU football. The Tigers have already surrendered 14 such plays this season after allowing only 15 the entire 2015 season. 

•Will Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee amp up the vertical passing game during the second half of the season? During his first three starts this season 12.6 percent of Sean White's pass attempts were beyond 20 yards of the line of scrimmage. During the last three starts it has increased to 18.0 percent. Last season 20.4 percent of White’s pass attempts were 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. 

•Three of Auburn’s five remaining conference opponents are allowing at least 190 rushing yards per game against Power-5 competition. Auburn’s running success bodes well for the Tigers, who are averaging 206 yards rushing against SEC competition.

•During the first three games of the season, the defense averaged a sack every 21 pass attempts. During the last three games the ratio improved to 1 every ten attempts. If these trends continue Auburn’s defense will be difficult to control.

•During the first three games of the season the defense forced a turnover every 110 snaps defended. During the last three games the ratio has improved to 1 every 32 snaps. When you consider 25 percent of Auburn’s points scored over the past 25 years resulted from a forced turnover, it is a good sign AU is trending upwards.

Final Word:

Since the 1970 season 11 Auburn teams have been 4-2 to start the schedule. Of those eight finished the season with a winning record. Seven of the eight played in a bowl game. The combined record of the 11 teams was 81-51-2. Five of the 11 finished the second half of their season with a higher winning percentage.

Through six games more than 74 percent of the total yardage gained on offense has come from freshmen and sophomores. Facing three ranked teams during the first four games forced this Auburn team to grow up quickly. Hopefully, this early test will only strengthen the fortitude of the team moving forward. Other than Alabama, the Tigers will not face any team better than what they have already competed against during the first half of the regular season. Despite all its issues, Auburn was within one play of taking the lead against Clemson and Texas A&M during the final period.

The defense started the season well and continued to improve its craft. Forcing more turnovers and playing better run defense have to be the primary areas to improve on for the group. The offense is very young, but has also improved as the season progressed. Its starting point was much lower than the defense, which means more ground to cover to catch up.

MONTRAVIUS ADAMS (PHOTO BY JASON CALDWELL)

Montravius Adams heads to the end zone after picking up a fumble vs. Mississippi State.

Auburn's kicking game is excellent again, but the return game is an entirely different story. Teams are punting more so for hang time than distance, which means there isn't much to do to adjust in this area. Perhaps during the off week Auburn’s coaches can reevaluate what they are doing. More kick return offense as well as forcing more turnovers is dearly needed to create more short-field opportunities for the offense.

Auburn is now 3-0 since Malzahn turned the play calling duties over to Lashlee. This decision has allowed Malzahn to be the head coach and not just the offensive coach. The team has responded favorably with Malzahn making more contact with the defensive personnel and special teams. We can finally appreciate Malzahn as the head coach and the positives he has brought to the program outside of the offense. Under his watch special teams have played well and the off-field issues have been minimal. Recruiting has been very successful and he has finally brought back good defensive play under his tenure, something Gene Chizik was unable to accomplish.

For those questioning him earlier this season, and rightfully so, a complete evaluation of the entire program should be considered if it comes to making a change at the top. Other than the offense, the 2016 team has all the attributes to be a strong team. His latest decision to separate himself from the offense might have been one of the best decisions he has made as Auburn’s head coach moving forward. Look for a strong second-half finish for the Tigers.

Around the Southeastern Conference this week:

BYU over Mississippi State

Georgia over Vanderbilt

Alabama over Tennessee

Florida over Missouri

Ole Miss over Arkansas

LSU over Southern Miss

Season Record: 46-11


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