By the numbers: Auburn football took different roads to Atlanta in 2013 and ’17

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football plays Georgia this Saturday in the SEC Championship Game — the Tigers’ first appearance in the game since beating Missouri in Gus Malzahn’s debut season of 2013.

In both seasons, Auburn rallied from a road loss to LSU to win the rest of its games in the SEC, including home victories against both rivals Georgia and Alabama. The Tigers were spearheaded by transfer quarterbacks in their first seasons with the team and had touchdown-heavy running backs who wore No. 21 and contended for an invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

(Both Iron Bowl wins came with field stormings.)

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A lot of similarities, right? But those pale in comparison to the differences between Auburn’s 2013 and ’17 teams. Malzahn said it himself after the Iron Bowl win Saturday and again during his weekly news conference Tuesday.

Let’s break down where these two teams contrast, starting with the offenses.

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Nick Marshall
Former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was the catalyst to an offense-heavy turnaround in 2013. (Getty Images)
OFFENSIVE STAT 2017 2013
POINTS PER GAME 36.7 39.5
YARDS PER PASS ATTEMPT 9.1 8.5
PASS ATTEMPTS PER GAME 25.6 20.4
PASS YARDS PER GAME 232.6 173.0
YARDS PER RUSH 5.0 6.3
RUSH ATTEMPTS PER GAME 47.3 52.1
RUSH YARDS PER GAME 237.7 328.3

Auburn’s 2013 team scored more points per game and was clearly a better rushing team. It was also a run-heavier team. The Tigers attempted more than 50 carries per game and a little more than 20 pass attempts.

Auburn’s 2017 offense, on the other hand, has been a product of balance. The Tigers average 230 passing yards and rushing yards while staying just a little bit behind the scoring pace of the 2013 attack.

With Jarrett Stidham, Auburn is trading a few of its standard carries for passes, and it’s made a huge difference. Despite just five more pass attempts per game, Auburn is averaging nearly 60 more passing yards per contest. That mark includes Stidham’s incredibly rocky 78-yard performance at Clemson in Week 2.

Nick Marshall could make teams pay with his arm in 2013 at the right time, but the Tigers benefited more from his rushing ability. Stidham has decent wheels, but it’s his downfield passing — something a Malzahn offense hasn’t had consistently since Cam Newton was on campus — that has made the biggest difference. Marshall had just four 200-yard passing performances in the 2013 regular season. Stidham had nine.

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Tre Williams-Auburn-Georgia-SEC
Auburn’s defense has been elite for most of the 2017 season.
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
DEFENSIVE STAT 2017 2013
POINTS PER GAME 16.4 24.7
YARDS PER PASS ATTEMPT 5.7 7.3
PASS YARDS PER GAME 177.3 257.7
SACKS PER GAME 2.8 2.3
TFL PER GAME 6.3 6.4
YARDS PER RUSH 3.3 4.6
RUSH YARDS PER GAME 125.9 163.0

Auburn’s 2013 defense had its fair share of playmakers, including sack master Dee Ford, versatile lineman Gabe Wright, strong linebacker Cassanova McKinzy and interception leader Robenson Therezie.

But that 2013 team had a glaring weakness in pass defense, giving up more than 250 passing yards per game. Under Kevin Steele, Auburn’s former Achilles’ heel has become a thing of the past. Elite defense is back on the Plains thanks to depth across the board and confident players in a tried-and-true system.

Auburn is now one of the nation’s best teams in both passing and rushing defense after being decent at rushing and just bad at passing in 2017. The 2013 unit was very much bend, don’t break, while the 2017 unit hasn’t given up more than 27 points in a game. This SEC West-winning squad hasn’t had to win many shootouts thanks to its stronger defense.

Now, let’s put those two units together and see how that turned out in actual wins and losses.

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Jarrett Stidham-Iron Bowl
Auburn has celebrated two double-digit wins against its rivals in the last three weeks. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
SCORING MARGIN 2017 2013
NONCONFERENCE P5 +7 (Washington State) -8 (Clemson)
NONCONFERENCE +29 (Arkansas State) +34 (Georgia Southern)
NONCONFERENCE FCS +59 (Western Carolina) +14 (Mercer)
NONCONFERENCE +35 (FAU) +28 (ULM)
ALABAMA +6 +12
OLE MISS +8 +19
MISSISSIPPI STATE +4 +39
ARKANSAS +18 +32
LSU -14 -4
TEXAS A&M +4 +15
GEORGIA +5 +23
SEC EAST +32 (Tennessee) +37 (Missouri)
TOTAL +193 +241
SEC GAMES ONLY +63 +173

Auburn’s 2013 team only lost one regular-season game and pulled off a 59-point drubbing of Western Carolina. However, an Auburn team that lost two games in the regular season still had more impressive victories to tip the scales.

The SEC scoring margin just goes to show how special this 2017 team was in the regular season. Auburn lost to LSU by four points in a nightmare game then didn’t let another team come close to beating it. It had its first 10-plus-point win over Alabama since 1969 and hammered Georgia by 23.

Auburn won half of its SEC games by more than 20 points. It only was able to rattle off one good beat down in conference play — a rout of Tennessee away from home.

Auburn’s 2013 team needed a last-minute drive against Mississippi State, a narrow shootout win at Texas A&M, a miracle play against Georgia and one of the most famous finishes in football history against Alabama in order to make it to Atlanta.

Auburn’s 2017 team overcame losses at Clemson and LSU by bulldozing most everyone else on its schedule in efficient and balanced fashion. These Tigers are in the same spot as they were in 2013, but they’re playing a completely different ball game.

The post By the numbers: Auburn football took different roads to Atlanta in 2013 and ’17 appeared first on SEC Country.

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