Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The numbers say what we're all thinking

The inside of the Boy's head.

Over the course of Tommy Tuberville's tenure as Auburn's head football coach, it's fair to say his teams have acquired certain reputations, certain easy stereotypes the common college football fan can fall back on when need be: Clock-chewing, run-first offense. Emphasis on speed yields ferocious-but-undersized defense. Smart coaching helps eliminates size deficit against bigger-name and/or bigger teams. At home, often disrupts opponents' mental approach with terrifying "Fog of Intimidation" entrance.

OK, so maybe that last one I'm just trying to give some traction on my lonesome, but the rest are out there. What's interesting about those stereotypes, though, is that when you take a cold, hard look at the numbers--when you really go inside them the way Mizzou fan the Boy does in this preseason look at the SEC West--what you find out is that ...

they, um, paint a pretty accurate picture*. To quote the Boy's "theory" as presented in his SEC East preview: In general, teams are either 1st and 3rd quarter teams or 2nd and 4th quarter teams. The 1st/3rd's are generally teams who derive advantages from gameplanning and adjustments. The 2nd/4th's are the teams with talent and athleticism that overcome you once the gameplanning is exhausted.

You can buy this or not. You can buy the Boy's dizzying array of stats and numbers--the most intriguing of which, for me, are the quarter-by-quarter breakdowns--or not. (I could try to explain some of them, but I'd suggest instead you follow the rabbit hole of links back into his previous posts and read his explanations instead. Fascinating stuff if you can handle stat wonkery at its wonkiest ... though in this case, I'll be honest, even I'm not sure I'm following him the entire time.) Regardless, the conclusions he draws fit what we would think about Auburn exactly:

Auburn's defense was terrific in the first and third quarters, but the rush defense broke down in the fourth. At the start of each half, Auburn's defensive advantages in scheme and quickness paid off handsomely, but mattered less as games progressed--hypothetically, because as the defense tired its disadvantages in size and physicality became more pronounced. (See: Mississippi St., Georgia.)

First-quarter offense played a major role in Auburn's wins. More time-of-possession early in the game would mean a fresher defense and better ability to make late-game stops. (See: Florida.)

The passing offense was terrible by-and-large, but when it performed in close games, Auburn won. If the defense could keep Evil Brandon in the game long enough, Good Brandon usually showed up by the fourth. (See: Kansas St., Arkansas.)

Looking at the overall picture, this--along with the well-founded wide receiver recruiting concerns Tubby's mentioned a dozen times--is why Tony Franklin is now your Auburn offensive coordinator.

The defenses Tubby builds are among the best-coached, most effective, just plain stingiest in the country, year after year. There are always whispers of skepticism about the size of Auburn's ends, linebackers, safeties, etc., but to suggest this is an approach that requires tinkering is to pick at the finest of nits. That said, to operate at its peak, it is an approach that requires the offense to do its part--as both common sense and the Boy's numbers tell us. 97th in the country in total offense is not doing its part. Allowing the likes of Tony Dixon to grind, grind, grind for three quarters is not doing its part--as things like a backbreaking 44-yards-all-on-the-ground touchdown drive with 5:27 to play suggest. Putting the defense in situations where it can wind up 109th in the country in fourth-quarter rush defense--in any kind of metric you choose--is not doing its part.

Which is why I have to chuckle every time I see the suggestion that the Spread Eagle will make Auburn's defense "soft." First, if there's anything out there that will successfully make BLACKMON SMASH SEN'DERRICK MARKS RAAAAWWWWR SMASH SMASH "soft," I'd love to know about it, since I'm pretty sure we can market it to parents of hyperactive children and make a bundle. Second and more importantly, as nice as BLACKMON SMASH is, it's not the Auburn defense's strength. Speed and guile are, and having everyone beat the bloody hell out of each other in practice doesn't play to that strength. Keeping the offense on the field for longer than three plays at a time, however, does.

As Tubby has said all along: hiring Franklin was good for the offense. But it was necessary for the defense.


The Boy said...

Two thoughts...

1) Don't worry--I don't always follow my own logic either.

2) Missouri's own defense last year was its best in decades, especially over the last half of the season. It was also the toughest, hardest-hitting defense I've ever seen in Columbia. Mizzou's spread offense did nothing to dissuade the D's success or toughness. The 'poster boys' for the spread are still Texas Tech, and since their defenses have been relatively wretched over the years, the 'spread offense' in general has gotten a bad rap, but trust me...you can have a fun, fast-paced successful offense and still wreck shop on D.

The Boy said...

Oh yeah, and thanks for the shout out...