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Tennessee Vols vs. #9 Auburn Tigers: statistical game preview

The RTT statsy preview machine warns Vols fans to hide their eyes when Auburn runs the ball on Saturday.

Somebody tackle this man.
Somebody tackle this man.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

A weekly look at our upcoming opponent from a statistics perspective. CAVEATS: You'll get tired of hearing this, but yeah, we know that small sample sets preclude concrete conclusions. One game (or even two or three or a full season (because football seasons are short)) doesn't provide enough data to approach the predictive accuracy of even a Magic 8 Ball, but that doesn't mean we're not going to look at what little we have. The results from 2012 and 2011 are understandably a mixed bag, but they also suggest that this is still a worthwhile endeavor.

Also, this: All of the following information is gleaned exclusively from the official NCAA statistics and the awesome and unless otherwise stated does not account for things like injuries, shared playing time, suspensions, and other stuff difficult to see in the stats from a bird's eye view under time constraints.

Head to Head Comparisons

Here's how the statsy preview machine did for last week's game between the Vols and Missouri.

Prediction Score Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
Tennessee 28 140 220 360
Missouri 38 200 220 420

Actual Results Score Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
Tennessee 3 94 240 334
Missouri 31 339 163 502

I will note for my own sanity that the teaser line for last week's post said, "The statsy preview machine likes Missouri by 10 this week but is clueless about a lot of things that matter." The "things that matter" were primarily Josh Dobbs -- who was starting his first game for the Vols as a true freshman against a Top 10 team on the road -- and Maty Mauk, also a backup quarterback. Turns out, Dobbs gave the Vols about the number of yards "expected," but they didn't translate into points, and Mauk got even more yards for the Tigers than expected, although they, too (to a lesser degree), didn't translate into quite as many points as you would have expected.

So how does this week look? Let's see.

Head-to-Head, from Tennessee's Perspective

Tennessee Logo Auburn Logo Comps Result against Comps Prediction
Closest Lower Closest Higher Closest Lower Closest Higher
Team Team Team Team
Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value
Tennessee rushing offense vs. Auburn rushing defense 52 181.44 51 149.11 Western Kentucky South Carolina Western Kentucky South Carolina 193
61 159.44 43 145.33 240 146
Tennessee passing offense vs. Auburn passing defense 110 177.7 92 249.8 Missouri Georgia Missouri Georgia 228
115 279.3 85 243.5 240 215
Tennessee rushing defense vs. Auburn rushing offense 101 201.67 6 306.22 Missouri Oregon Missouri Oregon 278
16 237.22 2 331.5 339 216
Tennessee passing defense vs. Auburn passing offense 56 227.7 101 188.7 Florida Alabama Florida Alabama 221
111 175.3 51 252 167 275
Tennessee scoring offense vs. Auburn scoring defense 87 25.1 22 20.1 Missouri Florida Missouri Florida 10
23 20.6 10 17.1 3 17
Tennessee scoring defense vs. Auburn scoring offense 79 29.4 28 36.8 Georgia Missouri Georgia Missouri 33
35 34.4 13 40.6 34 31

Head-to-Head, from Auburn's Perspective

Auburn Logo Tennessee Logo Comps Result against Comps Prediction
Closest Lower Closest Higher Closest Lower Closest Higher
Team Team Team Team
Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value
Auburn rushing offense vs. Tennessee rushing defense 6 306.22 101 201.67 None Texas A&M None Texas A&M 379
100 200.89 379
Auburn passing offense vs. Tennessee passing defense 101 188.7 56 227.7 Arkansas State Mississippi Arkansas State Mississippi 130
76 238.6 31 214.3 167 93
Auburn rushing defense vs. Tennessee rushing offense 51 149.11 52 181.44 Florida Atlantic Mississippi Florida Atlantic Mississippi 111
75 158 44 190.13 97 124
Auburn passing defense vs. Tennessee passing offense 92 249.8 110 177.7 Arkansas Florida Atlantic Arkansas Florida Atlantic 137
119 144.1 96 195.4 124 150
Auburn scoring offense vs. Tennessee scoring defense 28 36.8 79 29.4 Texas A&M Arkansas State Texas A&M Arkansas State 42
80 29.8 70 27.3 45 38
Auburn scoring defense vs. Tennessee scoring offense 22 20.1 87 25.1 Florida Atlantic Arkansas State Florida Atlantic Arkansas State 10
100 22.2 78 26.3 10 9

When Tennessee runs the ball: We're now getting just over 180 yards per game on the ground, and Auburn is giving up 150. That's pretty much right between Western Kentucky and South Carolina, who are giving up about 160 and 145 rushing yards per game. Against the Hilltoppers, we got 240 rushing yards, and against the Gamecocks we got 146. Averaging those out gives us 193. Looking at the same analysis from Auburn's perspective, the result is 124. Back at home and coming off a disappointment for the Vols' run game, I'm going with 190 yards on the ground for the Vols on Saturday.

When Tennessee passes: Tennessee's getting about 178 passing yards per game. Auburn is giving up about 250 which is pretty close to what Georgia's giving up (243). Against the Bulldogs, we got 215. Looking at it from Auburn's perspective, we look most like Arkansas and Florida Atlantic to them, and the Tigers held those teams to 124 and 150 passing yards respectively. Dobbs just barely missed on at least one deep throw (dropped by the receiver), and I'm guessing (hoping?) the passing game improves, so I'm going to go with 210 yards through the air for the Vols.

When Auburn runs the ball: We're 101st in the nation in run defense, holding opponents to 202 rushing yards per game. Auburn is 6th in the nation in rushing, getting 306 yards per game. That's only about 25 yards fewer per game than Oregon. Missouri is the next best comp, and they're getting 237 per game. Oregon got only 216 on the ground against Tennessee, but Missouri got 339, giving us a middle figure (finger?) of 278. Looking at it from Auburn's perspective is even worse: We are the worst rush defense they've played. Texas A&M is only a little better, and the Tigers gashed, gouged, and gored the Aggies for 379 yards on the ground. My prediction? Pain. 320 yards rushing for Auburn.

When Auburn passes the ball: Here's a bit of good news. Maybe. We're only holding opponents to about 228 passing yards per game, but the Tigers are getting only about 189, which is only marginally better than Florida, and the Gators got only 167 against us. The analysis from the Tigers' perspective spits out an even worse (better?) result of 130. The bad news? Passing Yards Per Completion (see below) shows that it might not be that they can't pass, but that they don't. I'm going with 170, because I think the Vols are going to have to focus on stopping the run, and although that might reduce that particular pain, it should also open up the opportunity for the Tigers to pass, and I'm guessing that they'll do that better than we want them or expect them to.

On the scoreboard for Tennessee: We're getting about 25 points per game now that we've played Alabama and Missouri. Auburn's giving up 20. That's very close to Missouri and not far from Florida, and we got 3 and 17 against those teams. Missouri's chart spits out the exact same prediction of 10 points for the Vols, so that's what I'm going with despite the heartburn it gives me.

On the scoreboard for Auburn: We're holding opponents to 29 points; Auburn's getting about 37, which is closest to Georgia's 34. The Bulldogs got 34 against us (31 in regulation), which also happens to be the same point total as the next closest comp (Missouri). From Auburn's perspective, we look almost exactly the same as the Texas A&M defense, upon which they scored 45. I'm going to go with 35 points for the Tigers.

Eyeballed Predictions

Score Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
Tennessee 10 190 210 400
Auburn 35 320 170 490

For two weeks, these predictions have been right in line with the Vegas odds for the games, but the early line for this one is only 7 to 7.5 in favor of Auburn. I don't know what to make of that because honestly, I don't see how the Tennessee defense is going to be able to stop the Auburn run game. It certainly helps that Auburn's pass game isn't putting up very good numbers, so the game plan can focus on stopping the run. But focusing on it and actually doing it are entirely different things, and, as I said above, if we do, the consequence might be learning that Auburn does in fact have a passing game. Perhaps Tennessee's offense will click and we can get into a shootout with them, but apart from that, I think we're in for another humbling defeat this week.


Auburn Logo
Washington St. Cougars 8/31/13 win 31 - 24 coverage
Arkansas St. Red Wolves 9/7/13 win 38 - 9 coverage
Mississippi St. Bulldogs 9/14/13 win 24 - 20 coverage
@ LSU Tigers 9/21/13 loss 21 - 35 coverage
Mississippi Rebels 10/5/13 win 30 - 22 coverage
Western Carolina Catamounts 10/12/13 win 62 - 3 coverage
@ Texas A&M Aggies 10/19/13 win 45 - 41 coverage
Florida Atlantic Owls 10/26/13 win 45 - 10 coverage
@ Arkansas Razorbacks 11/2/13 win 35 - 17 coverage
Strength of Schedule 48
Tennessee Logo
Austin Peay Governors 8/31/13 win 45 - 0 coverage
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 9/7/13 win 52 - 20 coverage
@ Oregon Ducks 9/14/13 loss 14 - 59 coverage
@ Florida Gators 9/21/13 loss 17 - 31 coverage
South Alabama Jaguars


win 31 - 24 coverage
Georgia Bulldogs 10/5/13 loss 31 - 34 coverage
South Carolina Gamecocks 10/19/13 win 23 - 21 coverage
@ Alabama Crimson Tide 10/26/13 loss 10 - 45 coverage
@ Missouri Tigers 11/2/13 loss 3 - 31 coverage
Strength of Schedule 3

Toughest schedule, at least according to the NCAA website, isn't based on ranking of opponents but instead on opponent (both past and future) wins and losses. That and the fact that Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina have lost 4, 3, and 2 games respectively, explains why Purdue and Utah both have "stronger" schedules than Tennessee. Purdue's ranked opponents include only #4 Ohio State, #21 Notre Dame, and #24 Wisconsin (and they've won only one game, by the way), and Utah's ranked opponets include only #5 Stanford and #12 UCLA. But Purdue's past opponents have only 9 losses, and Utah's have only 13. Tennessee's have 15 (and more, but not enough more, wins). Bottom line, the SEC is eating itself, and I don't see how anyone can believe that Tennessee's resume of ranked opponents -- at #2 Oregon, at #19 Florida, #6 Georgia, #11 South Carolina, at #1 Alabama, at #9 Missouri, and #11 Auburn -- isn't the most difficult schedule in the country by a long shot.

National Unit Rankings

Statistic National
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Rushing Offense (123 ranked) 6 1 306.2 Army 336.6 Auburn 306.2
Passing Offense (123 ranked) 99 11 188.7 Baylor 417.3 Texas A&M 371.8
Total Offense (123 ranked) 17 3 494.9 Baylor 718.4 Texas A&M 582.6
Scoring Offense (123 ranked) 28 5 36.8 Baylor 63.9 Texas A&M 49.0
Team Passing Efficiency (123 ranked) 30 7 149.00 Baylor 207.12 Texas A&M 178.50
Passing Yards per Completion (123 ranked) 16 3 14.15 Baylor 19.60 LSU 16.44
Passes Had Intercepted (123 ranked) 29 7 6 4 teams tied 2 Kentucky 2
Pass Sacks Allowed (123 ranked) 16 3 1.00 Toledo 0.44 Arkansas 0.78
Tackles for Loss Allowed (123 ranked) 15 5 4.22 Stanford 3.00 Arkansas 3.89
Red Zone Offense (123 ranked) 20 1 0.892 Florida St. 0.978 Auburn 0.892

Offensive observations. As I said earlier, at first glance, this looks like a team that can pound you to death with the run game but can't pass to save its life, but when you look at Passing Yards Per Completion, it looks more like they don't pass rather than that they can't. So it looks like these guys are Top 30 in everything that they choose to do. It's just that their preference is to run because why not when you do it better than anyone else in the best conference in the nation?

Statistic National
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Rushing Defense (123 ranked) 47 6 147.8 Michigan St. 43.4 Alabama 101.9
Passing Yards Allowed (123 ranked) 93 13 251.1 Virginia Tech 150.6 Alabama 179.0
Team Passing Efficiency Defense (123 ranked) 35 4 118.66 Michigan St. 90.29 Florida 98.60
Passes Intercepted (122 ranked) 30 4 10 Northwestern 18 Missouri 17
Total Defense (123 ranked) 68 11 398.9 Michigan St. 210.2 Alabama 280.9
Scoring Defense (123 ranked) 22 3 20.1 Alabama 9.8 Alabama 9.8
Team Pass Sacks (123 ranked) 42 4 2.33 East Carolina 3.63 Missouri 3.00
Team Tackles for Loss (123 ranked) 16 2 7.4 Clemson 9.4 Missouri 7.6
Red Zone Defense (123 ranked) 12 2 0.700 Baylor 0.550 Alabama 0.692

Defensive observations. Warning: Looks like another bamboo defense this week. You'd think that a team that's toward the bottom of the rankings in Passing Yards Allowed but toward the top in Red Zone Defense would do so by keeping receivers in front of them until the field shrinks to a more manageable size to defend. (We didn't need to buy this argument from Missouri when they made it last week, because the Tigers' Red Zone Defense ranked only 83rd.) A key difference between this week and last week is that Missouri's run defense was strong, and Auburn's is only 47th. So does that mean the Vols should pass until the field shrinks and then run in the red zone? Sure, let's try that. Because something's happening when teams are close to the goal line against the Tigers making it more difficult to score against them than it is to gain yards.

Statistic National
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Net Punting (123 ranked) 12 3 40.39 Purdue 43.12 Texas A&M 41.27
Punt Return Defense (123 ranked) 20 3 4.00 Boise St. -0.38 LSU 0.90
Punt Returns (123 ranked) 72 7 7.52 Kansas St. 21.71 Ole Miss 15.00
Kickoff Return Defense (123 ranked) 115 14 25.50 Vanderbilt 13.92 Vanderbilt 13.92
Kickoff Returns (123 ranked) 22 4 23.95 Stanford 29.44 Alabama 27.24
Turnover Margin (123 ranked) 53 7 0.2 Houston 2.5 Missouri 1.7
Fewest Penalties Per Game (123 ranked) 25 3 4.78 Navy 2.75 Arkansas 4.22
Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game (123 ranked) 31 6 41.89 Navy 23.13 Tennessee 36.56

Special teams and turnovers observations. Hey, Devrin. See that triple digit? Okay. Go. Fair catch those punts, but run like the wind on kickoffs.

Players to Watch

Category Player National
Rushing Yards (300 ranked) Tre Mason
Nick Marshall
Cameron Artis-Payne
Corey Grant
Rushing Yards Per Game (300 ranked) Tre Mason
Nick Marshall
Cameron Artis-Payne
Corey Grant
Passing Efficiency (112 ranked) Nick Marshall 53 139.1
Passing TDs (131 ranked) Nick Marshall
Jeremy Johnson
Passing Yards (135 ranked) Nick Marshall 90 1,266
Passing Yards Per Game (135 ranked) Nick Marshall 92 158.3
Passing Yards per Completion (112 ranked) Nick Marshall 15 14.07
Total Offense (300 ranked) Nick Marshall
Tre Mason
Cameron Artis-Payne
Corey Grant
Receiving Yards (400 ranked) Sammie Coates 50 638
Receiving Yards Per Game (400 ranked) Sammie Coates 71 70.9
Receptions Per Game (395 ranked) Sammie Coates 293 2.7
Scoring (246 ranked) Tre Mason
Cody Parkey

Offensive Observations. QB Nick Marshall returned from a shoulder injury against Arkansas and went 7-8 for 118 through the air and added 59 yards on the ground. The real workhorse on the offense, though, is Tre Mason, who's averaging over 100 yards per game and had 178 against Texas A&M. Last week, he went for 168 and four TDs. When Marshall does decide to pass, he mainly goes to Sammie Coates. We should put two guys on Coates and the other nine in the box to stop Mason and Marshall. I'm only half kidding. Well, maybe 3/4s.

Category Player National
Interceptions (239 ranked) Robenson Therezie
Ryan Smith
Pass Sacks (68 ranked) Dee Ford 7 1.0
Solo Tackles (57 ranked)
Tackles For Loss (32 ranked) Dee Ford 23 1.4
Total Tackles (392 ranked) Chris Davis 271 6.1

Defense. Playing the part of Jadeveon Clowney and Michael Sam this week is defensive lineman Dee Ford. Whatcha gonna do with him, o-line?

Category Player National
Punt Return TDs (6 ranked)
Punt Returns (72 ranked) Quan Bray 59 5.1
Punting (95 ranked) Steven Clark 31 42.5
Kickoff Return TDs (4 ranked) Tre Mason 4 1
Kickoff Returns (102 ranked)
Field Goal Percentage (98 ranked) Cody Parkey 56 0.769
Field Goals Per Game (130 ranked) Cody Parkey 55 1.1
All Purpose (250 ranked) Tre Mason 16 141.22

Special teams. Tre Mason is an all-purpose monster, adding kickoff return duties to his running back role. He's been somewhat pedestrian returning kicks laterly, but he did return one for a TD against Washington State in the opener.