The Auburn Tigers were in control for a lot of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic before nearly giving it away at the end to the Louisville Cardinals. I'll break things down by the Five Factors of winning to see what this game has to offer beyond the traditional box score.
I didn't include Auburn's final "drive" of the game when it was just running out the clock in any of the below, so if some things don't appear to add up on the Tigers' side, that's why. Also, sacks count as pass plays and won't appear in the run stats.
Louisville outgained Auburn, but that had to do with running 81 plays versus Auburn's 58. AU had a 5.6 yards per play rate compared to 5.0 for UL, neither of which is all that good.
|Team||Runs 10+||Pct.||Passes 20+||Pct.||Explosive Pct.|
As far as rates of explosive plays go, the Tigers did OK on the ground but not at all through the air. The pass defense came through in limiting big plays, but nearly one out of every three rushes the Cardinals had went for ten yards or more. That's a troubling sign in a division full of great runners.
But wait, you say, almost half of such runs were from Lamar Jackson (six). It's possible that Auburn just didn't prepare for that and figured Reggie Bonnafon was going to go the distance. There could be something to that, with Jackson's explosiveness rate being 40%. That said, Brandon Radcliff had an explosiveness rate of 29.4%, which is right at the rate for the whole game. Auburn is not going to win the West allowing that many big run plays.
To compare to last year, I used data from the excellent CFBStats to compare to how the 2014 defense did against Power 5 opponents. I transferred sacks from run play counts to pass play counts to stay consistent with here. The '14 Auburn defense allowed gains of 20+ yards on 10.6% of Power 5 opponent pass plays. The 2.7% that Louisville got was way lower. The '14 Auburn defense allowed gains of 10+ yards on 23.4% of Power 5 opponent run plays. The 30.2% then represents a regression.
Overall though? The '14 defense allowed such explosive plays on 17.2% of all Power 5 opponent plays, which is pretty close to the 16.3% that Louisville attained. For one game, at least, giving up explosive plays is just as big a problem this year as last. Will Muschamp walking through the door alone hasn't fixed that particular problem. Of course, you don't have to remind me that this is only Week 1. What I'm saying is, these will be figures to watch through the year to see if the overall rate ends up falling from the 2014 level.
The main measure here is success rate. Watch this short video if you need to brush up on it.
|Team||Run SR||Pass SR||Overall SR||Red Zone SR|
Three of the four offensive numbers for the Tigers are really good. The pass success rate isn't stellar, but it's not horrible. Basically, when Jeremy Johnson wasn't throwing heinous interceptions, Auburn's offense clicked along at a nice rate. The efficiency numbers bear out what explosiveness did above: Muschamp's defense was pretty good against the pass but not against the run.
|Team||1Q SR||2Q SR||3Q SR||4Q SR|
Not surprisingly, the AU defense did its best work at full strength in the first quarter. Losing Carl Lawson and Trey Matthews later on didn't help its cause. Here we see the start of the big theme of this piece, which is that Auburn couldn't finish.
Efficiency by Player
I will warn you: this next table is graphic and may not be suitable for younger audiences.
|Player||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
It was a rough debut. The interceptions are what's dragging down the passing efficiency mark, and the low completion percentage is dragging down the yards per attempt mark. The success rate isn't terrible though; by comparison, Connor Mitch went for 26.1% for South Carolina against North Carolina. Low 40s is about average. If Johnson can cut down on the big mistakes, things will get better quickly.
These numbers collectively look better than Johnson's overall ones do because they don't include the three interceptions and one of his incompletions. Those aren't in the targets data for the game, despite, for example, Johnson's longest INT (the one into triple coverage) was clearly intended for Louis. Anyway, only being able to connect with Louis and Williams on about half of his attempts to do so doesn't bode well. Those are the best receivers. They shouldn't be so hard to complete passes to.
With both Thomas and Robinson getting dinged up, the load fell to Barber. He came through according to both the traditional stats with 115 yards at just under five per, and a really high success rate for the number of carries.
On the other side, neither Jackson (77.0 passing efficiency, 33.3% success rate) nor Bonnafon (104.8, 43.8%) came away smelling like roses. Again, the pass defense from Auburn was solid.
Jackson did most of his damage on the ground with a 66.7% success rate on 15 carries. Radcliffe's success rate on the ground was 52.9%, which is noticeably above average. That figure would plummet if, you know, he wasn't running for 10+ yards every third play. It's like the mirror image of Johnson's passing stats: when Auburn wasn't giving up big plays, it was pretty good on everything else.
The teams' starting field positions were similar, but that's about it.
|Team||Avg. Starting Position||Plays in Opp. Territory||Pct. Of Total|
If it ever felt like the Cardinals were living on the Tigers' side of the 50, it's because they were for a lot of the game. This looks pretty bend-but-don't-breaky on Auburn's part to me.
Finishing. It's the big issue for this game.
|Team||Drives||Trips Inside 40||Points||Red Zone Trips||Points|
When the Tigers got into scoring opportunities, they cashed in. The Cards didn't convert at as high a rate, but they got more chances thanks to Auburn letting them move the ball so much.
Louisville gave it up twice, with one being a fumble return for a touchdown. Johnson's three INTs were it for Auburn. It was close in numbers and probably didn't decide the game.
The Tigers have a lot of youth throughout the roster. The inexperience everywhere but receiver was something that Auburn skeptics pointed to this offseason. I think we saw the results of that on Saturday.
Auburn was fairly well in control of the game for most of it. When Louis ran into the end zone to put the team up 31-10 with 10:04 to go, it technically put the game into garbage time according to Football Outsiders (a lead of 16 or more in the fourth quarter). Here is what happened before and after that touchdown:
The teams ran almost exactly the same number of plays before it. Auburn was more efficient despite the big miscues from Johnson, and the slow but steady extension of the lead reflected that fact.
Afterward the Tiger defense couldn't get off the field, and the offense couldn't do a thing to help in its one opportunity to do so. I don't mean to take anything away from Louisville, which didn't pack it in when it could have and showed some great things with Jackson. Still, it's hard not to posit that at least a few Tigers thought the game was over after that touchdown when the Cardinals didn't share that sentiment.
When asked about Johnson's play after the game, Gus Malzahn hand-waved the interceptions:
"[Johnson] was trying to force a few things," the coach said. "He made some very good plays to help us win. He's going to be fine."
If he is going to be fine, then the Auburn offense probably will be fine. The run game was efficient, and we've seen in past seasons where a Malzahn rushing attack gets better as the year goes along.
The defense, meanwhile, needs Lawson to get healthy. The quarter-by-quarter success rates show how important he was before he went out around 11 minutes to go in the second quarter. He was a major disruptive force that caused a lot more negative plays. Auburn's coaches seem to think he'll be just fine too, and that's huge.
The important thing is that Auburn did manage to win. It didn't make things easy with bad plays on both sides and a severe letdown towards the end, but it's a starting point. The offense was more than efficient enough; Johnson just needs to throw it to his own team more often. The defense has further to go, especially against the run. That issue is critical with Leonard Fournette and LSU looming in two weeks.