Catch of the Day at Cafe Malzahn
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AubTigerman’s feature article yesterday got me thinking (a dangerous pastime—I know). If Sean White’s numbers are quickly making him the top quarterback in the SEC, what other numbers can we glean from the season now that we’ve reached the halfway mark?
Quite a few, actually.
For one thing, I ran the numbers at the mid-season for my venerable Cafe Malzahn system of judging team quality, and the results were very interesting. Since all but LSU, Florida, Ole Miss and Missouri have played six of their 12 season games, the numbers will be as close as we can get them for a good mid-season look at each team statistically.
First of all let’s review our standards. These are the numbers of the SEC champions as they have been for the last eight years. Green is the stuff of top notch, championship teams. Yellow is for good to great teams, white average and the dreaded pink is the color of the slips likely given to some SEC coaches at the end of the season. Note that the numbers for each of the red-zone figures is halved in the quality point, meaning a total of 16 is the maximum for both Offense and Defense. A team with a combined ’32’ is a team playing at a championship level in all aspects. But any team above 25 or so can challenge for the playoffs.
It should also be said that these represent how a team has played over time and should NOT be an absolute measure of a team’s performance in the future. That pigskin can bounce a number of ways on the field of play, and it isn’t out of the ordinary for a team with a small disparity in quality points to come out on top in any single game. But in general, if a team is separated from its opponent by five or more quality points, it would be a significant upset if they won.
Division team-by-team reviews after the break.
Cupcake games for dessert? I Love cupcakes!
To start, let’s look at the SEC West offenses:
As expected, Ole Miss’s offense is at the top of the field, but Alabama is the surprise discovery, hitting on nearly all cylinders save scoring. But when you have a defense that averages better than a touchdown per game (7 in 6 games, no less—only 2 less than South Carolina’s offense in the same time frame), it looks even better. But for the purpose of ranking offensive output, I’ve used only those points scored by the offense for every team. (Sorry Montravius, we’ll credit the defense later in the discussion).
Texas A&M and Arkansas show up ahead of Auburn in this ranking, but that’s just a reflection of how bad our first three games were. If you normalize for just the last three games, Auburn moves past Arkansas and is tapping on the Aggies’ shoulder.
But the real story of the season is the defensive performance.
Even though the numbers seem equal, Alabama is the clear leader with that extra touchdown in each game, and ought to be shown in plaid. But do you see who’s second by just a hair? Kevin Steele has earned a big War Eagle from the fan base, which is saying a great deal considering where we were just a year ago. The other big surprise of the season is the last place ranking of the Ole Miss defense. Any wonder now for the multiple second-half collapses by that team? This is what those look like statistically. Is it a lack of depth, adjustments, what? LSU’s and TAMU’s defenses are stout, as well we know it. But Arkansas is looking very vulnerable and may not prove as big a bugaboo for the Tigers that they have in previous seasons.
But what about the East?
My those Gators look tough, don’t they? Sure they do. Only, these are their statistics after playing those powerhouse out-of-conference teams like Massachusetts and North Texas and their two Eastern Division rivals Vandy and Kentucky. They lost to Tennessee in their only other game, and that wonderful 50% third down conversion rate slipped to a very pinkish 37% against the Vols defense. What they do against a decent defense will have to wait until they have one on the schedule.
Think Florida didn’t know this when they seemingly couldn’t find a way to reschedule the LSU game? Yeah, I’m not buying their excuses either.
The rest of the SEC East? While Tennessee is looking better, the overall performance is well off the statistics of the fun and gun offenses from the Spurrier, Richt and Pinkel eras. Their replacements are rapidly looking alarmingly average to bad on offense.
And on defense?
Again, Florida looks as able as Alabama but like I said, those numbers have yet to be generated against quality opponents this year. We’ll see in the coming weeks if that Gator defense is for real or not. The other big surprise in the East? As bad as the games have gone for the Gamecocks, that sure looks like a Boom Boom Muschamp defense, doesn’t it? With Florida’s defensive numbers so inflated, the Gamecock D might just be the Beast of the East by season’s end. If only they could just get that offense in gear.
The rest of the East is rather pedestrian at best. And Georgia? Yikes and Double Yikes. Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart was the brains of the Saban era defenses the last decade, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he? (crickets). They must outfit that Dawg Defense with only red capes for the red zone this year—Ole! I don’t know if Coach Smart will last very long with these types of numbers. I’m not seeing any improvement from week to week.
So how do all the teams rank together? Let’s take a look.
Pretty impressive, isn’t it? Despite the two losses, despite the offensive woes of the early season, we’re still well in the mix as a top tier team in the SEC, and that Tiger defense is something we haven’t seen since the Tuberville era eight years ago.
But you know what I found the most interesting statistics for the half-season? 31 for 32 for 96.9% and 16 yards.
The first ratio is the number of times Daniel Carlson has kicked off for touchbacks this season. 16 yards is number of return yards of the one and only time any of his kickoffs was returned at all, in the first game of the season by Clemson’s Artavis Scott (who was chewed out by Dabo Sweeney when he reached the sidelines for taking a ball that deep out of the end zone). No one else has even bothered to try. That is, other than that ambitious photographer, Ashley Ward. Though at least she can rightfully claim she’s better than five other FBS teams at returning a Daniel Carlson kickoff.
I looked at the last five years in the NCAA and the NFL and the closest I’ve ever seen anyone put up Legatron-type numbers for a full season was 2015 for the Indianapolis Colt’s Adam Vinateri (87%) and the Baltimore Raven’s Chris Tucker (85%). No other kicker in the NFL topped the 70th percentile in this category that year. Even if you throw in Ian Shannon’s 6 kickoffs, only two of those have been returned for a team percentage of 92.1%.
This is uncanny and unprecedented. Carlson’s performance has been as near to perfection as any player in history at the collegiate or professional level. This isn’t about winning this year’s Lou Groza award (which I think is already in the bag). Carlson may be the first kicker since Sebastian Janikowski in 2000 to be picked in the first round of the NFL draft—as a junior. If he stays for his senior year, he could well equal Janikowski’s feat of winning back-to-back Groza awards and be the highest drafted kicker in the history of the game. His numbers are that good.
What’s that about a leg and a major award at Christmas?
But the best news is of course the reinvention of the Auburn offense. To give you a glimpse of what I’m seeing week in and week out, take a look at the differences between the play calling and quarterback by committee of the first three games and the offensive output of the second three games.
Defensively, we’re improving too. If this season continues in this manner, the Iron Bowl may rival that of 2013. And with Legatron kicking? Have your cameras locked on the goalposts late in the game. You just might see another magical finish.
But until then, just kick back and enjoy the results so far. Sean and that big D have done a very fine job indeed. War Eagle!