Let’s get this out of the way up top: Auburn is Missouri with a better defense.
The head coaches are - essentially - the same. Drinkwitz was Harsin’s OC at both Arkansas State and Boise State and was heavily influenced by the Boise alum’s schemes. Harsin uses more personnel matchups and subterfuge than his former protégé but both he and Drinkwitz use a run-oriented offense with a lot of pre-snap motion and shifts to open up the horizontal passing game to eventually hit deep shots. They are the Spiderman-pointing-meme to its core.
Both offenses rank in the 40s in SP+ and are separated by a a mere 0.6 in quality. However, they are inverses of each other in that Auburn can actually run the ball and thrives in standard downs whereas Missouri relies on explosive plays through the air and does moderately better in passing downs.
Defensively, Auburn has one of the best run defenses in the country but are a total liability in defending the pass, whereas Missouri is pretty good at defending everything but a liability in giving up big plays.
And then you look at the results so far:
Look at the win expectancy! Eerie, huh?
There is, of course, another aspect that needs to be addressed. As I mentioned in my preview that I did in May, Bryan Harsin survived a booster coup by running to Mexico and letting athletic director Allen Greene subdue the natives long enough to give Harsin at least one more year. Well...the boosters then ousted Greene on August 26th and now Harsin no longer has any powerful defenders left in the building. He also just got waxed by Penn State and is 0-6 against P5 opponents since last November.
Missouri also has a reputation of being the “last straw loss” for getting coaches on the hot seat fired. This particular Mizzou squad doesn’t seem equipped to win on the road but...does this particular Auburn squad seem unbeatable?
Let’s take a look at the key factors that I think Missouri needs to achieve to win this game.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Welcome to SEC play, where the opponent recruits at the same level - and usually better - than you do. Most of Auburn’s blue-chippers reside on the defensive side and their aggressive 3-4 front has done a good job this year in making the tackle with the first guy. They’re not super havoc-y but have been sound against the run and surprisingly leaky against the pass.
Missouri’s offensive line can’t open holes for running backs to get through and Auburn is a dominating run defense. So please, for the love of god, focus on the passing game and get your two best weapons constantly involved! It does need to be successful, however, otherwise you’re just going three-and-out quickly without taking time off the clock. Despite the fact that this Missouri offense is more explosive than efficient, I still think a 43% success rate through the air will be needed for this type of attack to work.
You know what Missouri also stinks at? Third down conversions! For the season the Tigers have a 38% success rate in 3rd-downs and are averaging 7.1 yards as the average 3rd-down distance to go. In case you need me to confirm it: yes, both of those are bad. However, Auburn’s defense is allowing a 33% success rate on 3rd-downs so they’re not that much better at stopping offenses in that situation, either. This will be a stretch based on past execution but lets set the goal for a 45% success rate on 3rd-down.
Finish your dang drives
Surprise! Eli Drinkwitz’s offense is bad at capitalizing on scoring opportunities again! Three games into the season the Tigers are averaging 4.05 points per scoring opportunity, 87th in the country. That can’t stay stagnant if this team expects to actually win SEC games. The good news? Auburn’s defense is 110th in point per scoring opportunity given up. Movable object, meet stoppable force! The Tigers should shoot for 5 points per scoring opportunity against a defense that has struggled in that category.
When Auburn Has the Ball
Missouri’s defense should have plenty of experience going up against this type of offense as the Drinkwitz book is a direct off-shoot of the Harsin book. The difference, of course, is that Auburn is actually good at running the ball and terrible at throwing it. The Good Guy Tigers will need to be aggressive to get this offense out of its comfort zone.
Throw Them Off Schedule
Much like Kansas State, Auburn’s blankie is the ground game, and they need that to be consistently functional in order to operate the way they want to operate. Penn State’s defensive front knocked back Auburn’s line on the first two drives, went up a few scores, and removed the ground game as a reasonable option for the rest of the game. To wit, Tank Bigsby - Auburn’s
only best playmaker on offense - finished the game with 9 rushes and 2 catches total. I would suggest Missouri do that by limiting the Auburn rushing success rate to 41% or less.
It’s the key to Blake Baker’s defense working and we need to see more of it. Passes defensed, forced fumbles, quarterback pressures, interceptions, and PLEASE some tackles for loss (and sacks). Outside of the Louisiana Tech game this Missouri defense has been limited in their havoc production and to have any shot against stopping Auburn, they’ll need to shoot for at least a 25% havoc rate.
Look...it’s a road game and Eli Drinkwitz doesn’t win on the road (unless he’s playing Vanderbilt). Then again, he’s going to be amped up to be playing against his old boss and the Bad Guy Tigers are coming off an outright thumping with their coach on the precipice of permanently hitting the golf links. This doesn’t feel like a close game, rather a blowout in either direction. If Missouri is to beat Auburn this is nearly the best time to do it, but with the obvious flaws that we’ve seen so far from this Missouri squad, it’s hard to foresee a win on the road at Jordan-Hare.