There’s a moment during every Auburn game the past few seasons, a brief moment of anticipation tinged with dread, where the Auburn quarterback walks to the field for the first time and takes his place in the offensive formation, and I begin to have the thought “will this be any fun?” I have often thought there is no offense more terrifying to watch than a Gus Malzahn offense at the height of its powers. When Auburn went on its run at the end of 2013, the Auburn offense was a chainsaw of yards and first downs. When Auburn won six straight games last season, playing Auburn was like trying to tackle a wood-chipper. Churning and spinning motions in the backfield, thudding and smashing power dive plays up the middle—The Malzahn offense runs through defenses like a F5 tornado through a trailer park. However, no offense looks more anemic, listless, and pitiful than a Gus Malzahn offense when it isn’t working. The Georgia games the past few years and the Clemson games the past two seasons both showed an offense that is moving more yards pre-snap than post-snap. One of the reasons Auburn fans get so annoyed with Gus is when it goes bad it looks so annoyingly simple. Why not mix it up, Gus? Why are you trying to be so cute, Gus? Why is the Wildcat formation still a thing?
But when it works...
Auburn’s offense against Mizzou was more than “firing on all cylinders” or “finally coming together” or any other cliché sportswriters will use. Gus and Chip dumped gasoline on Mizzou and then tossed a victory cigar in their direction.
Moving forward, I will still most likely find myself asking “will this be any fun?” as Stidham and his league-leading completion percentage takes the field. I’ve been burned too many times by this team. I’ve expected offensive success and gotten the Georgia game last season. The only way to know if this game is going to be fun or sad would require a sort of mathematical black magic.
What crafty calculus could be used to concoct such complete and absolute algebraic alchemy? Am I up to the challenge? Are you?
To The Numbers Cave!
Auburn has lost its last two SEC home openers. It lost its last home game against Mississippi State in 2015 in a miserable 17-9 slog. Since 2004, Auburn is 10-3 on the last Saturday of September, but hasn’t played on September 30 since 2000, when it beat Vanderbilt 33-0. In fact, Auburn is 6-3 all time on Sept. 30 and averages a 26-16 victory. When Auburn has played an SEC opponent on Sept. 30, it has won its past two times and four of its past five. Mississippi State has lost four of its last five games on 9/30 and hasn’t won a game on September 30 since all the way back in the year 2000. Auburn didn’t play on Sept. 30, 2006, the last time the thirtieth fell on a Saturday, but Mississippi State sure did. The Bulldogs got pounced on by LSU 48-17.
What can we make of all these numbers? Not much, let’s keep crunching them.
Auburn scored 51 points last week in a dominant win on the road over Mizzou. The last time Auburn won on the road, and scored more than 50 points was 2013 at Tennessee. The game after that? An Auburn win over Georgia you might remember. Before 2013, the last time Auburn scored 50 in a win away from Auburn was the 2010 SEC Championship game in which Auburn won 56-17. The game after that? An Auburn win over Oregon in something called the National Championship. Before that? 2010 Ole Miss. Did Auburn win its next game? Yeah, it dropped a 60-burger on UT-Chattanooga. Auburn didn’t score 50 points in a game away from Auburn between 2010 and 1971. Since 1971, Auburn is 3-0 in games following 50-point outputs by the Auburn offense away from home. Sidenote: Gus Malzahn has been responsible for every single time Auburn has scored 50 points on the road since 1971, and every time his teams do it, they play for a national championship in the same year.
Holy Jet Sweep, Aubie!
It get’s weirder. The last time Auburn’s first SEC game was a road game, and Auburn won that game was 2010. The next SEC game Auburn played that year, it won. That’s the only time a Gus Malzahn-affiliated Auburn team has opened SEC play on the road and won that game. In 100% of the times it has happened, Auburn has gone on to win its SEC home opener, and the National Championship. If Auburn wins Saturday, it basically is a lock for the National Championship, if statistics are to be believed.
Auburn, when ranked, has faced off against another ranked team 17 times since Gus Malzahn has been the head coach, and is 8-9 in those contests. While that record isn’t very impressive, at home Gus’ Tigers are 4-0. Gus Malzahn has never lost at home to an AP-ranked opponent while coaching a ranked team. Auburn is favored to win this game by more than a touchdown, and if so, might be in for a magical season.
Good Auburn teams win their SEC home openers. Great Auburn teams win their SEC home openers after winning their SEC road openers. I think this Auburn team stumbled out of the blocks, but is hitting its stride. I think the offense will do enough to score more than the defense allows MSU to score. Three of the last seven Auburn-MSU games have come down to the final drive of the game, but I think this one will be decided earlier than that. I think Auburn beats the spread. I think Gus extends his streak to 5-0 against ranked teams at home when his team is also ranked. I think Auburn wins big.
We win, we dance.