Aubserver Mailbag 95: Numbers Aren't Always Our Friends
This week: Defensive rotation, running game woes, the EPAs in bad football games, top-15 CFB jobs, basketball's minutes leaders and restaurant recommendations
(Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
Look, I get it.
Auburn football is 3-3. It’ll have to play its best game of the season, by far, in order to avoid falling below .500 heading into the off week. Being a two-touchdown underdog to an Ole Miss team that you’ve beaten six straight years is pretty bleak.
And that really affected the tone of this mailbag. A lot of your questions trended toward the pessimistic side — again, I’m not gonna talk too much about future coaching candidates until a move is made, whenever that is — and for good reason.
This is rough stuff. There isn’t even an Ole Miss-specific question in here. The title of this mailbag is a riff on a title from less than two months ago, when there was still optimism about the program.
But, hey, basketball season starts in less than a month!
We tackle a few questions on the hardwood, as well as a couple of food topics, in the back half of this mailbag. Thanks to everyone for continuing to subscribe and submit your questions each week. Painter will take over the duties next Friday, as is the off week tradition.
We’ll just see how much changes for Auburn football between now and then. Let’s go.
Can you compare how many players are playing in football games now vs. the last few years? In the defensive front, especially, it seems like a big decrease in rotating guys in.
This is a question I’ve had myself, so it gave me a perfect opportunity to dive into the data.
To get the best gauge of a true rotation, I looked at the number of players who got double-digit defensive snaps against Power 5 opponents over the last four seasons. By limiting it to just double-digit snaps, you can eliminate a lot of the brief emergency fill-ins or garbage time cameos. And, since non-Power 5 games tend to get out of hand earlier, limiting it to just Power 5 opponents gives us a better sense of the real depth.
So far in 2022, Auburn is averaging 17.25 players per game who get double-digit defensive snaps against Power 5 opponents. In 2021, that number was a flat 17. During the COVID year in 2020, the Tigers had 18.33 such players per game. In 2019, one of the best years for defense under Kevin Steele, 20.33 players per game got double-digit defensive snaps against quality opponents.
The amount of rotation has definitely gone down under Bryan Harsin, and it’s showed up in a number of games. But let’s talk about the defensive line rotation specifically. I looked at Auburn’s two common opponents across all four of these seasons: LSU and Georgia.
Against LSU, Auburn played six defensive linemen 30-plus snaps in 2019. In 2020, that number was five, with a sixth lineman getting 29 snaps. In 2021 and 2022, that number went down to four.
Against Georgia, Auburn played five defensive linemen 30-plus snaps in 2019. In 2020, that number was four, with a fifth lineman getting 25 snaps. In 2021, that number was three, with a fourth getting to 29 snaps. And, last week, Auburn’s defensive line played five linemen 30-plus snaps, but that was heavily influenced by injuries to several players.
It’s not a gigantic drop-off, but the decrease in the number of players rotating stacks up over time — especially at the line of scrimmage. Auburn’s defense hasn’t rotated as much as usual under two different Harsin coordinators, and sometimes, the results have reflected that.
Does Eku Leota have any remaining eligibility?
Yes, Eku Leota could play another season of college football if he chose to do so. He redshirted as a freshman at Northwestern in 2018 and played two seasons for the Wildcats in 2019 and 2020.
Leota has spent two seasons at Auburn, the current one now cut short due to a pectoral injury. But, since he was on a roster during the COVID season, he could take a super senior season in 2023 — much like Shedrick Jackson, John Samuel Shenker and several Auburn offensive lineman have done this season.
It’ll be interesting to see what Leota decides to do after he recovers from his injury. A lot might depend on what the Auburn staff looks like in 2023 and how the NFL sees him. He was playing arguably some of the best ball of any Tiger this season before he went down, so the time could still be right for him to make a jump to the next level.
When was the last time Auburn wasn’t ranked at any point in a season in either the USA Today or AP top 25? Even in 2012, we snuck in the preseason poll…