StatTiger Column: Analyzing Kentucky at AU

Columnist StatTiger crunches the numbers to predict a winner as the Tigers take on the Kentucky Wildcats.

Auburn 5-1/2-1 SEC vs. Kentucky 2-3/ 0-3 SEC

2009 National Rankings:

Rush Offense: 7th/Rush Offense: 46th
Pass Offense: 41st/Pass Offense: 106th
Total Offense: 5th/Total Offense: 89th
Score Offense: 10th/Score Offense: 76th
Rush Defense: 84th/Rush Defense: 101st
Pass Defense: 49th/Pass Defense: 27th
Total Defense: 67th/Total Defense: 59th
Score Defense: 82nd/Score Defense: 78th

About Kentucky…

The Wildcats of Kentucky started the season with two consecutive victories, but have suffered conference losses in the last three weeks to nationally-ranked teams. Their recent loss to South Carolina could have easily been a victory, but a late Gamecock goal line stand resulted in a 28-26 loss.

This season marks the Wildcats' seventh year under Coach Rich Brooks, who has compiled a 34-44-0 record at Kentucky. This includes a current three-year run of bowl victories, something no other Kentucky coach was able to accomplish.

Brooks and the Wildcats are 0-2 against Auburn and the Tigers currently hold a 24-5-1 record against Kentucky. Auburn has a winning streak of 15 in a row against the Wildcats dating back to 1967. Auburn's last defeat to Kentucky was in 1966.

Coach Rich Brooks

The Wildcat offense under the direction of coordinator Randy Sanders is currently ranked 89th in total offense and 76th in scoring offense. The heart of the offense is the running game, currently ranked at No. 46 in the nation with 167 yards per game. Derrick Locke leads the Wildcats in rushing with 333 yards at 4.2 yards per carry. Locke has rushed for more than 70 yards in three of his five starts this season.

Starting quarterback Mark Hartline suffered a season ending knee injury last week against South Carolina. Will Fidler may be the new starter. Fidler has seen action in only eight games with a career total of 17 pass attempts. Receiver Randall Cobb is Kentucky's most dynamic player with 310 yards receiving and 130 yards rushing. Cobb started four games at quarterback in 2008, attempting 99 passes, and he also returns punts and kickoffs.

Senior linebacker Micah Johnson leads the Wildcats in tackles with 38 stops on the season. He also is second on the team with tackles for loss. Three-year starter Corey Peters leads the Cats in tackles for losses as well as sacks from his defensive tackle position. Kentucky has been a "bend but don't break" defense this season, ranked 97th in forced turnovers and 80th nationally in tackles for loss. Except for the Florida game, the Wildcats have held their opponents to 131.7 yards rushing per game and 319.7 yards in total offense.

Inside the Numbers…

In the last 20 meetings between the two schools Auburn has averaged 388 yards to Kentucky's 241 yards and 29 points to Kentucky's 13 points.

Since the SEC expanded to 12 teams in 1992, the two programs have only met four times with an average score of 43-18 in favor of Auburn, including an average of 280 yards rushing per game.

The last time Auburn played Kentucky (2005), Kenny Irons and Tristan Davis both rushed for more than 100 yards as Auburn racked up 388-yards rushing.

The Wildcat defense gave up 362 yards rushing to Florida and 204 yards to Alabama this season. In their three conference games, the Wildcats' opponent has run the ball 66 percent of the time, averaging 5.3 yards per rush.

Auburn's Ben Tate comes into the Kentucky game as the SEC leading rusher, averaging 6.1 yards per carry and Onterio McCalebb is averaging 6.0 yards per carry.

Kentucky gained 301 yards against Alabama, the No. 2 rated defense in the country, and 360 yards against South Carolina, the No. 15 rated defense in the nation.

Kentucky is 47th nationally in third down offense, converting 41.5 percent, while the Auburn defense is 64th nationally in third down stops, allowing a conversion rate of 38.6 percent.

In 51 conference games under Brooks, Kentucky has allowed 197.8 yards rushing per game, including 23 games of 200 yards or more. The Wildcats are 5-18 in those 23 games.

In its last 51 conference games, Kentucky has allowed 419.9 yards and 31.4 points per game.

The Wildcat offense this season has five plays of 30 yards or more on offense or one every 68.6 plays. Their defense has allowed a big play every 39.6 plays. The Auburn offense has a big play ratio of 1 every 27.9 plays and one allowed every 36.5 plays on defense.

Why Auburn should win…

Auburn is seventh in the nation in rushing offense and Kentucky is 101st in run defense. Auburn has recorded 16 offensive plays of 30 yards or more and Kentucky has five. Auburn is currently averaging 6.0 yards per rush against SEC competition and the Wildcats are allowing 5.3 yards per rush to conference opponents.

Under Brooks' direction Kentucky is 5-20 on the road against SEC competition. Its 2007 victory over Arkansas on the road was UK's lone victory against a SEC opponent that finished the season with a winning record.

Auburn is 58-6-1 at home since 1951 against SEC opponents that finished the season with a losing record.

Why Kentucky should win…

If you take Auburn's scoring averages against Kentucky's scoring margins from their last three games vs. BCS level teams, Kentucky should win, 38-32.

If this game ends up being close, special teams could play a major factor. Kentucky is 15th nationally in kick returns and Auburn is 106th in kickoff return defense.

Against two top 15 defenses, the Kentucky offense managed to gain 24.3 percent more yards than what Alabama and South Carolina allowed per game. Auburn is currently allowing 369 yards per game, which would project Kentucky at 458 yards if the same trends continue.

In their last four games, Auburn has allowed its opponent to rush for 16.7 percent more yards than the opponent's season average. If this trend continues, Kentucky projects to rush for 195 yards against Auburn.

Final Word…

The Tigers received a massive dose of reality in last Saturday's loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks. Up until the Razorback game, Auburn was able to mask many of its issues with an explosive offense, but it unraveled when the offense came out flat against the Razorbacks.

Adding to the concern for the defense and special teams was the lack of focus during the week of practice leading up to the Arkansas game. As Coach Gene Chizik pointed out, this Auburn squad is not good enough to overcome a significant number of turnovers and penalties on the road against a conference opponent. With half the regular season in the books, mental as well as physical fatigue could be setting in on a very thin defense.

As well as the offense has performed this season, Auburn has scored only nine offensive touchdowns in their last three games against BCS competition while allowing 13 touchdowns on defense. The drop in offensive production has come in the passing game, which produced 300 yards against West Virginia, 235 yards against Tennessee and 133 yards against Arkansas.

Chris Todd clearly struggled against an Arkansas defense which had previously allowed 337 yards passing per game in its last three outings. Strangely, Todd has only completed 51 percent of his first down passes for only 5.2 yards per attempt. Fortunately for the Auburn offense, the running game has been very consistent this season.

Mike Hartline, will be a major setback for the Wildcats, but the Auburn defense has shown a tendency of making opposing offenses better than expected.

Expect Kentucky to make running the football a major priority this week. This should include a higher number of snaps by Cobb at the quarterback position. He rushed for 89 yards against the Gamecocks last Saturday. If Auburn continues to have tackling issues this could play into the favor of a run-oriented attack by the Wildcats. This would also aid in winning the time of possession battle and keep the Auburn offense off the field.

Look for Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to take advantage of a vulnerable Kentucky run defense and for tailback Ben Tate to have another big game. With Auburn's second half schedule full of challenges, this game is crucial for the Tigers. As Coach Chizik stated, how Auburn responds to its loss against Arkansas, could define their season. Auburn 31, Kentucky 20

Around the SEC…

Alabama over South Carolina by 11
Florida over Arkansas by 10
LSU, Bye
Ole Miss over UAB by 16
Miss State over Memphis State by 13
Georgia over Vanderbilt by 9
Tennessee, Bye

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