By the Numbers … Breaking Down This Iron Bowl

Lyn Scarbrough

November 22, 2017 at 1:31 pm.

Nov 11, 2017; Starkville, MS, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Damien Harris (34) runs the ball during a play that would result in a touchdown against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the fourth quarter at Davis Wade Stadium. Photo Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 11, 2017; Starkville, MS, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Damien Harris (34) runs the ball during a play that would result in a touchdown against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the fourth quarter at Davis Wade Stadium. Photo Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

You can make numbers say most anything.

Watched an old television show recently where the young boy proudly burst into the house after school, announcing to his parents that he finished second in the race at school that day.

He left out the part that there were only two runners.

So, numbers don’t always tell the story.

But, when you try to analyze an upcoming ball game, one where the teams are equally matched, one with much riding on the outcome, comparing how the teams have done, looking at statistics and records is probably the best way to have an objective analysis.

The game in Jordan-Hare on Saturday certainly qualifies. Seldom have the teams appeared this equally matched and once again, much is riding on the outcome.

Here are some numbers to consider:

• SEC Games: Alabama 7-0 , average score 41-10, scored 40 or over 4 times
Auburn 6-1, 4-point loss at LSU, average score 43-19, scored 40 or over 6 times

• Comparative SEC Scores:
– LSU … Bama wins by 14, Auburn loses by 4 … 18-point advantage Alabama
– Ole Miss … Bama wins by 63, Auburn wins by 21 … 42-point advantage Alabama
– Texas A&M … Bama wins by 8, Auburn wins by 15 … 7-point advantage Auburn
– MSU … Bama wins by 7, Auburn wins by 39 … 32-point advantage Auburn
– Arkansas … Bama wins by 32, Auburn wins by 32 … exactly the same

• Statistical Comparisons:

This one gets a little tricky. You can’t easily compare apples to apples, as they say.

Both teams played the other five SEC West teams, so that’s an even comparison. And, both teams played two teams from Group of 5 conferences, so won’t have as much significance.

Both teams also played a non-conference Power 5 opponent, as well as two teams from the SEC East Division. That’s where the difference is significant.

Alabama’s out-of-conference opponent was Florida State. The Seminoles enter their game with Florida on Saturday with a 4-6 record, having to defeat the Gators, also 4-6, and Louisiana-Monroe next week in order to even qualify for a bowl game. They could miss postseason for the first time in over three decades. Along the way, they’ve lost to Boston College (35-3) and Clemson (31-14), among others and have lost to every ranked opponent. Bama defeated Florida State comfortably to open the season.

Auburn’s out-of-conference opponent was Clemson. The ACC Tigers enter their annual game against South Carolina with a 10-1 record, ranked No. 2 nationally, with a legit shot to defend its national championship. Along the way, they won at Boston College (34-7) and defeated four ranked opponents. Auburn lost to Clemson by eight points at Clemson in the season’s second game.

Alabama’s East Division opponents were Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Those two teams play on Saturday with a combined SEC record of 0-14. Nothing else needs to be said about that.

Auburn’s East Division opponents were Georgia and Missouri. Georgia is ranked No. 7 nationally with a 10-1 record. The Tigers beat them, 40-17. Missouri, the hottest team in the SEC during the past month, has won its last three SEC games by a combined score of 140-50. Auburn beat them, 51-14. The combined SEC record of Auburn’s two opponents is 10-5.

So, you might want to keep those in mind when evaluating these national stats:

Team Statistics

Total Defense … Alabama No. 1 nationally … Auburn No. 14 nationally
Scoring Defense … Alabama No. 1 … Auburn No. 8
Rushing Defense … Alabama No. 1 … Auburn No. 11
Passing Efficiency Defense … Alabama No. 8, Auburn No. 18
Sacks … Auburn No. 14 … Alabama No. 21

Total Offense … Alabama No. 15 … Auburn No. 17
Scoring Offense … Alabama No. 7 … Auburn No. 17
Rushing Offense … Alabama No. 9 … Auburn No. 18
Pass Completion Percentage … Auburn No. 6, Alabama No. 32
Passing Efficiency … Alabama No. 4 … Auburn No. 8
3rd Down Conversion Percentage … Auburn No. 18, Alabama No. 41
Red Zone Offense … Auburn No. 17, Alabama No. 26

Individual Statstics (leading player for each team)

Passing Efficiency … Jarrett Stidham, Auburn No. 10 … Jalen Hurts, Alabama No. 11
Pass Completion Percentage … Stidham, Auburn No. 5 … Hurts, Alabama No. 43
Yards per Passing Attempt … Stidham, Auburn No. 7 … Hurts, Alabama No. 8
Rushing Yards per Game … Kerryon Johnson, Auburn No. 9 … Damien Harris, Alabama No. 61
Rushing Touchdowns … Johnson, Auburn No. 7 … Harris, Alabama No. 26
Reception Yards per Game … Calvin Ridley, Alabama No. 35 … Darius Slayton, Auburn No. 116
Touchdown Catches … (Tied for No. 81) Slayton, Auburn; Ryan Davis, Auburn; Henry Riggs, Alabama
Total Touchdowns … Johnson, Auburn No. 5 … Harris, Alabama No. 37
Points Scored Per Game … Johnson, Auburn No. 2 … Andy Pappanastos, Alabama No. 17
Sacks … Jeff Holland, Auburn No. 9 … Raekwon Davis, Alabama No. 42
Interceptions per Game … Mack Wilson, Alabama No. 52 … Auburn, none in Top 150

There are more team and individual statistical categories that could have been included, but these are the ones most significant, as a team and as individuals. This does leave out placekicking (Auburn advantage) and punting (Alabama advantage), where it’s difficult to have objective comparisons by only using statistics. But, either of those two areas could very well determine the outcome of the game.

So, there it is. Everybody can have opinions, but it’s difficult to argue against statistics, records and past performance. It’s just what story you choose for them to tell.

From here, if both teams play to their capability, it looks like a close Auburn win. How about 27-24 as the final? But, it won’t surprise me if the game goes the other way.

For the loser, it’s still an outstanding season, a significant bowl game. For the winner, it’s a showdown game against Georgia with the College Football Playoff on the line. If Alabama is the loser, the Final Four could still be possible if other things go its way.

This is one of those where “we finished second” can still mean it was a pretty good performance.