In fact, the last three teams under Coach Tommy Tuberville appear in the Top 25 in terms of wining percentage for a season over the last 73 football seasons. The 2004 team was tied for No. 1 and the 2005 squad was tied for No. 22 on the list. Considering the personnel and injury problems the 2006 Tigers were faced with, winning 11 of 13 games was a tremendous accomplishment.
Breaking down the numbers for the season will further outline what the Tigers accomplished this season by winning 11 games. It will also illustrate what the Tigers need to improve on for 2007 if they want to extend their current winning percentage (.868) from the last three seasons.
Auburn's current three-year run is the second best in school history from 1951-2006. Only the 1957-1959 Auburn Tigers won a higher percentage of games (.883) than the 2004-2006 teams.
Judging by the general Auburn fan reaction, the defense received more criticism than the offense this past season. Based on Auburn's performances against Arkansas and Georgia, there was plenty of responsibility to spread around the team. Sometimes we are too quick to focus the blame on the "new" guy and this was clearly the case when it came to defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Yes, there were times that Auburn's defense appeared to be lost and the Tigers struggled getting their opponent off the field. However, a closer examination of the numbers will paint a much clearer picture.
During the 2006 season, Auburn competed against seven opponents that finished the season with a .500 or better record. With this in mind, it might be wise to look at what each opponent averaged compared to what Auburn gained and allowed during those games. The following is a comparison of how many yards an AU opponent averaged in 2006 vs. how many Auburn allowed that team along with comparisons of the opponent's scoring defense average and how many points the Tigers scored vs. that opponent.
Yardage Avg/Yardage by AU and Points Allowed/AU's Points
Washington State 357/484 and 23/40
LSU 139/182 yards and 12/7 points
South Carolina 337/307 yards and 19/24 points
Arkansas 307/213 yards and 18/10 points
Florida 269/315 yards and 13/27 points
Georgia 258/171 yards and 18/15 points
Nebraska 343/178 yards and18/17 points
For the season, Auburn's offense averaged 264 yards in those seven games, which was 37 yards less per game than what the opponent normally allowed. The Tigers gained more yards than the opponent's average in two of seven contests. Auburn did average three more points per game than its opponent normally allowed. This was accomplished by scoring higher than the opponent's average in three of seven games.
Yards Gained Avg/AU's Yards and Points Scored/Points vs. AU Washington State 388/274 and 24/14
LSU 404/309 and 33/3
South Carolina 395/349 and 27/17
Arkansas 379/366 and 30/27
Florida 398/279 and 29/17
Georgia 312/446 and 25/37
Nebraska 429/230 and 32/14
The Georgia game was the only one in which Auburn allowed more yards and points than what the opponent normally averaged. Against their seven toughest opponents, Auburn's defense held six of the seven to under their yardage and scoring averages for the season. Based on the offensive and defensive averages, it's obvious the defense actually performed better than the offense in Auburn's most difficult games.
Auburn finished the season ranked No. 68 nationally in total offense and No. 51 in scoring offense. The defense finished the season at No. 23 in overall defense and No. 7 in scoring defense.
Utilizing the same category of opponents (.500 or better), here is how the 2006 defense compared to other Auburn defensive units from recent years comparing yards allowed per game, points per game and yards per play:
Year … YPG …. PPG ..YPP
1996 … 414.8 … 29 … 5.67 (Bill Oliver's first year)
1998 … 307.2 … 20 … 4.70 (Bill Oliver's final year)
2000 … 343.9 … 24 … 5.38 (John Lovett's best year)
2002 … 349.4 … 20 … 5.08 (Gene Chizik's first year)
2004 … 306.3 … 13 … 5.12 (Gene Chizik's final year)
2005 … 338.8 … 20 … 5.13 (David Gibbs)
2006 … 321.9 … 18 … 5.35 (Will Muschamp)
In terms of yards allowed per game, only Bill Oliver and Gene Chizik's third seasons at Auburn were better than Coach Will Muschamp's first defense. The 2006 Auburn defense also allowed the second fewest points per game. During the season, Auburn faced six opponents that finished ranked in the Top 30 nationally in total offense. The defense held those six opponents to 304 yards and 15 points per game.
Aairon Savage became a starter at safety during his redshirt freshman season.
There is no doubt the 2006 Auburn defense played more consistently than the offense. What might appear to be excuses to some is merely the truth when it comes to the offense. Personnel and injuries were simply the main problem for the 2006 offense. Losing three key receivers and two starting tackles was never completely addressed. Brandon Cox and Kenny Irons were plagued with injuries for most of the year not to mention the loss of tight end Cole Bennett while Joe Cope and Courtney Taylor were limited by injuries.
There has been a lot of discussion about Auburn's lack of playmakers on offense this season. Auburn lost 26 plays of 30-yards or more when Devin Aromashodu (14), Ben Obomanu (7) and Anthony Mix (5) left after the 2005 season. Taylor had 13 plays of 30-yards or more during his career, but 10 of them came before the 2006 season. Taylor was always a possession receiver, who benefited from having Aromashodu and Obomanu on the field with him at the same time.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges not only had a solid core of receivers to work with in 2004, but he also had Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, who totaled 33 additional plays of 30-yards or more during their careers at Auburn. Throw in Jason Campbell, who was involved in 62 plays of 30-yards or more, and Coach Borges had an offense loaded with big-play talent in 2004. Next year Auburn returns Ben Tate (3), Brad Lester (6) and Rodgeriqus Smith (5) with a combined 14 plays of 30-yards or more. The redshirt freshmen will need to contribute for the offense to improve in 2007.
In 2004, Auburn had 38 plays of 30-yards or more in 13 games. In 2005, it dropped to 26 in 12 games. This past season, Auburn had 20 plays of 30-yards or more in 13 games, which included Will Herring's fake-punt run against Washington State. During the 2006 campaign, 19.6 percent of Auburn's total yardage was the result of plays of 30-yards or more. This was the 12th lowest percentage over the last 20 seasons at Auburn. The 1997 offense was No. 1 on the list with 30.0 percent of its total yardage resulting from big plays.
Researching the "big play" numbers, I found a direct correlation with big plays and a consistent running game resulting in a successful offense. Over the past 20 seasons, Auburn needed one of the two in order to field a quality offense. For example, the 1997 offense averaged only 77.6 yards rushing per game, but because it had a high percentage of big plays the Tigers won 10 games and made it to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
On the flipside of the equation, the 1989 (13th), 1994 (16th) and 1988 (17th) offenses finished lower than the 2006 (12th) offense in terms of the percentage of yardage resulting from big plays. Despite lacking the big-play offense, the 1988, 1989 and 1994 offenses had a better average in terms of yards and points per game than the 2006 squad. The common denominator was a stronger running game, which the 2006 Auburn offense lacked. The 1988 offense averaged 215 yards rushing per game, the 1989 team averaged 178 and the 1994 offense averaged 192 yards rushing.
Bottom line, if you cannot consistently run the ball, you better have "big play" capability or your offense will struggle, which was the case this season for the Tigers. There was a drop in big-play production and the running game averaged only 148 yards per contest. Against the seven opponents that finished the season with a non-losing record, Auburn's running game averaged only 126 yards per game. Auburn also saw a drop in production in "big plays" against SEC competition with only seven plays of 30-yards or more. Last season, the Auburn offense had 13 plays of 30-yards or more and 23 in 2004 against SEC competition.
So what is the solution on offense next season? Using an old cliché, it all starts up front. The offensive line struggled with its consistency in 2006, which hampered both the running game and passing game. Over the past 45 seasons, Auburn has totaled more than 1,900 yards rushing during a season 26 times. Of those 26 teams, the 2006 running game had the 22nd lowest average per rush (4.10). Auburn quarterbacks were sacked 35 times this past season, which was one every 8th pass attempt. This was the worst average during the last 20 seasons. Auburn loses four seniors from the starting offensive line, which means a rebuilding job for Coach Hugh Nall.
There are "playmakers" awaiting their opportunity to prove themselves on the gridiron next year. Brad Lester is the most proven "playmaker" on offense and he will obviously compete for the starting tailback position in 2007. Ben Tate will certainly have something to say about the distribution of carries in the running game. Though he started out as a walk-on, Rod Smith led all Tigers with more than 10 receptions with 17.4 yards per catch. He also scored four touchdowns and had five receptions of 30-yards or more on just 26 receptions.
The future is in the hands of players like Tim Hawthorne, Terrell Zachery, Chris Slaughter and Alex Rose at the wide receiver position. Hawthorne and Slaughter are expected to give Auburn the speed and talent needed to generate more big plays. Mario Fannin is the most heralded of the bunch giving Auburn the ability to utilize him at multiple positions on offense. His combination of speed, size and athletic ability has the Auburn faithful excited about his debut in 2007.
Yes, the 2006 Auburn defense sputtered at times, but Muschamp was successful in laying a strong foundation to build on in 2007. The defense will be youthful next year, but the talent is there to field another Top 10 defense. The offensive side of the ball has far more question marks and Brandon Cox will need to improve on his junior campaign. Surrounding him with a better offensive line and more playmakers will make the task much easier. This was evident from the 2005 season, when Cox directed the No. 1 offense in the Southeastern Conference.