StatTiger Column: Analyzing Auburn's Game Two

StatTiger crunches the numbers to determine a winner for Saturday's Southern Miss at Auburn football game.

Auburn, Ala.--StatTiger, Inside the Auburn Tigers columnist Stuart Carter, picks a winner in the Southern Mississippi at Auburn football game.

Southern Mississippi (1-0)

Offensive Numbers: 633 yards per game (427 rushing, 206 passing), 51 points per game

Defensive Numbers: 394 yards per game (263 rushing, 131 passing), 21 points per game

Record Against Auburn: 5-16

2007 Record: 7-6 Overall, 5-3 Conference USA

63rd Total Offense (389.7 ypg)

61st Scoring Offense (27.8 ppg)

48th Total Defense (366.4 ypg)

41st Scoring Defense (24.1 ppg)

Last year Southern Mississippi finished the regular season with a 7-5 record, 5-3 in conference play. It was good enough to land a spot in the PapaJohns.com Bowl against Cincinnati where the Golden Eagles were defeated 31-21 in Coach Jeff Bowers' last game as the head coach of Southern Miss.

Larry Fedora was hired to replace Bowers, a 17-year veteran as the USM head coach, with the goal of becoming a better offensive team. Fedora was very successful as the offensive coordinator while at Oklahoma State.

Larry Fedora

The Golden Eagles return six starters on offense, but only four on the defensive side of the football. Running back Damion Fletcher is USM's vital component to the offense. He is coming off a brilliant 2007 season in which he rushed for 1,586 yards while scoring 15 rushing touchdowns.

Southern Miss was able to rush for more than 200 yards in five of its 13 games last season, eclipsing the 400-yard mark in total offense on six occasions.

Southern Miss has traditionally been a strong defensive team under Bowers, but the Golden Eagles must replace seven starters from 2007, including their entire defensive front. They are expected to improve on offense, which will become a necessity with the expected dropoff in defensive production.

Last time out...

Southern Miss opened its 2008 season in spectacular fashion with a 51-21 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Golden Eagles built a 34-14 halftime lead, cruising into the final period with a 44-14 advantage. Damion Fletcher had a career-best outing, rushing for 222 yards and two touchdowns.

Bubba Kirksey tallied 110 yards rushing as Southern Miss rolled up 427 yards on the ground.

Freshman quarterback Austin Davis passed for 206 yards and two touchdowns, completing 14 of 21 passes.

The ninth-ranked and 10th-ranked Auburn Tigers won their season opener 34-0 over ULM mainly on a strong defensive performance and a running game that accumulated 321 yards led by Ben Tate's 115 yards. The passing game struggled in its season debut, totaling only 85 yards on 27 pass attempts.

Ben Tate picked up his fourth career 100-yard rushing game as an Auburn Tiger in the opener.

Chris Todd and Kodi Burns completed only 1-8 third down pass attempts. The Auburn defense held the Warhawks to just 220 total yards, also scoring a defensive touchdown on its first play of the season. Not only did Auburn play well on defense, coordinator Paul Rhoads was able to provide valuable playing time deep into the depth chart.

About Southern Mississippi...

The Golden Eagles' offense started the season with five touchdown drives on the first seven possessions. Fedora's version of the "spread" offense is designed to be balanced and the Golden Eagles were able to move the ball at will on the ground and through the air against Louisiana-LaFayette.

Eight of the Golden Eagles' 14 offensive possessions netted a minimum of 50 yards and their defense forced two turnovers and three punts on the Ragin' Cajuns' first five possessions of the game.

Southern Miss was expected to struggle on defense and did at times despite an impressive performance turned in by the offense. Louisiana-LaFayette managed nearly 400 yards in total offense with five possessions that netted at least 39 yards.

Of the 67 snaps executed by Louisiana-LaFayette, the Southern Miss defense made only one tackle for a loss. Junior linebacker Gerald McRath led the USM defense with 15 tackles.

Freshman DeAndre Brown was the leading receiver for USM, netting 92 yards on just four receptions, including a 48-yard touchdown reception. Brown is a huge target at 6-6, 228 pounds, giving the Golden Eagles another play-maker.

Fletcher rushed for at least 100 yards in 9-13 starts last season, breaking Sam Dejarnette's season record established in 1982. Dejarnette was a former Auburn Tiger who transferred to USM after the 1981 season.

About Auburn...

Jordan-Hare Stadium was at capacity for the season opener with many wanting to witness Auburn's new offense for the first time. The Tigers scored 17 first half points, but defense and special teams generated the two touchdowns.

The offense gained only 150 yards and scored only three points by halftime with rotating quarterbacks. The Tigers improved during the second half, gaining 256 yards and 17 offensive points during the final two periods.

Robert Dunn scored his first college touchdown on special teams, returning a Warhawk punt 66 yards. Ben Tate was the star on offense with 115 yards rushing on just 13 carries, including a run of 49 yards. The Auburn running game and offensive line played well despite the lack of production in the passing game.

The defense was impressive under first year coordinator Rhoads, holding the Warhawk offense under 100 yards rushing and under 150 yards passing.

Final Thoughts...

Though Auburn is gearing up for conference play, Southern Miss will be a good test to see just how good Auburn truly is on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Tigers are 16-5 all time against the Golden Eagles, but 2-2 in the last four meetings. The last time the two teams met was in 1993 when Auburn defeated USM, 35-24.

Of the 21 meetings between the two schools, ten came against a Golden Eagle team that finished the season with a winning record. Six of those ten meetings were settled by eight points or less.

Southern Miss has faced off with four SEC opponents in the last five years, going 0-4 by an average score of 33-13. The Golden Eagles' most recent victory against a traditional power came against Nebraska during the 2004 season when they upset the Cornhuskers 21-17.

The 633 yards gained against Louisiana-LaFayette established a new school record for total offense, but it should be taken into perspective. Arkansas State defeated the Ragin' Cajuns last season by a score of 52-21, netting 681 yards in total offense.

Establishing their running game against Auburn will be essential for Southern Mississippi. Quarterback Austin Davis will be making the second start of his young career so keeping him out of obvious passing situations can only benefit the Golden Eagles.

During the Tuberville Era at Auburn, the Tigers are 44-4 when holding their opponent to under 100 yards rushing. Rhoads commented that Auburn's tackling was sound against ULM, but he pointed out eight missed-tackles. The Tigers will need to be consistent in tackling the Golden Eagles this week.

Poor route running, timing and overall lack of execution were some of the reasons given for a poor passing performance by Auburn this past weekend. If the Tigers are to advance to 2-0 this Saturday, the passing game must improve. If Burns is cleared to play after suffering an injury in game one, Franklin is expected to play both quarterbacks, but after second-guessing his methods from game one look for the quarterbacks to receive consecutive series on the field rather than alternating them each series as the coaches did in game one prior to Burns leaving the field with a serious cut on his leg in the third quarter.

The talent is there for the Tigers, but developing consistency in execution will keep drives alive, resulting in more points. The offense is still in search of its identity, which could become volatile mixed with a rash of turnovers. The Tigers are expected to take steps in the right direction offensively in week two, but the Golden Eagles will have a say in just how much Auburn improves.

Auburn 23, Southern Miss 12


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