Florida Gators vs. Auburn Tigers advanced stats review

The Florida Gators made a statement by knocking off the Auburn Tigers in the Swamp on Saturday night. It was a bit of a weird game, as Gator fans felt like their team controlled the affair if not for a few big mistakes and some Tiger fans felt the same. I’m going to use the numbers to try to untangle that knot.

This review is based on Bill Connelly’s Five Factors of winning, sacks are counted as pass plays, and I threw out the clock-burning drives at the ends of each half.

Explosiveness

Everyone has a different definition for what counts as an “explosive play”, but I go with runs of at least ten yards and passes of at least 20 yards.

Team Runs 10+ Pct. Passes 20+ Pct. Explosive Pct.
Auburn 3 10.0% 2 6.7% 8.3%
Florida 2 7.1% 4 10.0% 8.8%

Lamical Perine had both of Florida’s explosive runs, a ten-yard option gainer and his 88-yard lightning strike. Two of Auburn’s three came in the fourth quarter as the Gators were nursing their lead and giving a little around the line of scrimmage to avoid allowing giant plays.

As has been the case since Kyle Trask took over, UF isn’t hitting a ton of the 20+ explosive pass plays but is eating well in the 10-19 yard intermediate range. He and Emory Jones combined for seven such completions, while Bo Nix had just five.

Efficiency

The main measure here is success rate. Watch this short video if you need to brush up on it.

Team Run SR Pass SR Overall SR Red Zone SR
Auburn 33.3% 23.3% 28.3% 0.0%
Florida 25.0% 35.0% 30.9% 16.7%

As expected, the Gators’ run game was very inefficient against the Tigers’ outstanding defensive front. They kept plugging away at it just enough to keep the pass open and did have the one big break, but very little of the run game was about moving the ball consistently on the ground. Auburn’s run game was pretty dismal early too, but it made some headway in the second half.

The fact that the teams’ ended up with about the same success rate plays into the fans’ dueling interpretations of the game. AU’s offense went three-and-out more often, but in the end it was about as (in)efficient at moving the ball as UF’s offense was.

Team 1Q SR 2Q SR 3Q SR 4Q SR
Auburn 20.0% 8.3% 37.5% 41.2%
Florida 17.6% 40.0% 20.0% 43.8%

For the umpteenth time under Dan Mullen, Florida moved the ball better in the second and fourth quarters than it did in the first and third quarters. The Gators did have that quick strike to Freddie Swain early, but they scored their other 17 points in the even numbered quarters. I’ll have to to an article on this effect at some point (note to other media types reading this: please don’t steal my idea).

Auburn did move the ball better in the second half, which I think also feeds into the Tiger fans’ perception of the game. AU stayed afloat by cashing in turnovers early and then got the offense out of first gear a few drives into the second half.

The Tigers’ best drive came late in the third quarter when they drove from their own 5-yard-line to as close as the Gators’ 7-yard-line before Nix threw an end zone pick. They easily could’ve put points on the board after the break if not for Nix making some bad freshman mistakes.

Efficiency by Player

Player Comp. Pct. Pass Eff. Yards/Att Sacks Pass SR
Kyle Trask 64.3% 155.1 8.0 4 34.4%
Emory Jones 71.4% 105.0 4.0 0 28.6%
Bo Nix 44.4% 82.4 5.7 2 23.3%

You can see the way that Florida tried to use the short passing game to supplement the run in the way that the Gator signal callers’ completion rates tower above their success rates. Auburn’s defense was ready for those in the same way they were ready to stop the run. Trask’s four sacks is too high a number against a defense that wasn’t sacking quarterbacks of weaker teams heading into the game.

Nix had his moments but very much looked like a freshman. His line of 11/27 for 145 yards with 1 TD and 3 INT is reminiscent of his line against a good Oregon defense away from home in the opener of 13/31 (41.9%) for 177 yards (5.7 YPA) with 2 TD and 2 INT. Against stingy defenses outside Jordan-Hare, he’s a liability.

Player Targets Catches Yards Yards/Target SR
Kyle Pitts 11 8 65 5.9 36.4%
Freddie Swain 9 6 146 16.2 66.7%
Josh Hammond 5 2 23 4.6 40.0%
Lamical Perine 4 4 15 3.8 25.0%
Tyrie Cleveland 3 2 -1 -0.3 0.0%
Trevon Grimes 1 1 4 4.0 0.0%
Jacob Copeland 1 0 0 0.0 0.0%
Van Jefferson 1 0 0 0.0 0.0%

Swain is my offensive player of the game for the Gators. He was consistently able to get separation and made some excellent open field plays. He also was able to catch some tough punts despite the wind making it tricky.

Mullen isolated Pitts quite a bit, something I diagrammed before the season. It also says something about the depth at receiver that Jefferson, Grimes, Cleveland, and Copeland combined for three catches and three net yards and the passing attack was mostly fine sacks aside.

Player Carries YPC Rushing SR
Lamical Perine 13 9.5 30.8%
Malik Davis 5 3.2 20.0%
Kyle Trask 4 -0.3 0.0%
Emory Jones 3 4.3 33.3%
Josh Hammond 1 6.0 100.0%
Dameon Pierce 1 0.0 0.0%
Tommy Townsend 1 -1.0 0.0%

The rushing success rates were bound to be poor, and they ended up poor. The one line I want to focus on is the third one. Trask already isn’t that great a runner, but Mullen gave him all four of those carries after Trask sprained his MCL. Post-injury, Trask looked like he was running in sand the rest of the game. I get that those runs were about ball security — you can’t fumble the handoff if there is no handoff — but that’s rough to do to your ailing quarterback.

Field Position

Team Avg. Starting Position Plays in Opp. Territory Pct. Of Total
Auburn Own 33 19 31.7%
Florida Own 32 22 32.4%

I was surprised to see the average starting position be almost even here because of how many short fields Auburn had in the first half. In fact, the Tigers had an ASP of their own 42 before intermission. Florida took control of field position in the second half, though, giving Auburn an ASP of their own 20. That field position flip was a big reason why the Tigers still failed to score despite improving their efficiency after the break.

Finishing Drives

A trip inside the 40 is a drive where the team has a first down at the opponent’s 40 or closer or where it scores from further out than that. A red zone trip is a drive with a first down at the opponent’s 20 or closer.

Team Drives Trips Inside 40 Points Red Zone Trips Points Pts./Drive
Auburn 15 6 13 1 0 0.87
Florida 15 7 24 2 7 1.60

It tells you something about the big-play nature of the touchdowns that in 30 combined drives, only three included proper red zone trips. All three of those red zone trips ended as turnovers, as Trask fumbled away the ball on UF’s two and Nix threw a pick on Auburn’s one. The Gators’ other missed scoring opportunity was a punt late that pinned Auburn to its own 10-yard-line, while a pick and a punt made up the Tigers’ other two blown scoring chances.

Turnovers

It’s a heartwarming story that Trask is getting to start this year for the first time since his freshman year of high school, but that fact is biting the team with his fumbles while being sacked. Defenses generally aren’t allowed to hit quarterbacks during practice, so Trask doesn’t have much experience at being rushed for real. He fumbled while being sacked once each against Tennessee and Towson and then three times against Auburn.

Since 2005, college football quarterbacks have fumbled 10.8% of the time while being sacked. Trask has ten career sacks, and he’s fumbled on five of them. There could be a small sample size effect here, but there is a 0.21% chance that Trask would randomly fumble five times in ten sacks given that overall probability. It’s almost certainly not mere bad luck. It’s him thinking he has more time to get the ball out while being pressured than he does.

The other UF turnover besides Trask’s three lost fumbles was Dameon Pierce’s lost fumble. I still don’t get why the replay official didn’t review that one for targeting. Tommy Townsend’s botched fake punt sort of works like a turnover too.

Auburn also turned it over four times, with the deflection on a punt and Nix’s three interceptions. Shawn Davis’s was a spectacular play, while Donovan Stiner and Marco Wilson took advantage of a young quarterback making mistakes.

Overall

The game remains something of a Rorschach test in terms of game control. Both teams were able to move the ball reasonably well given the defenses in two of the four quarters, but both had promising drives killed by turnovers. Which are more random: lost strip-sack fumbles or freshman interceptions?

The real difference in how it turned out was the magnitude of the explosive plays. Each had the same overall percentage of explosive plays by the way I define them. Florida just had a 64-yard touchdown pass and an 88-yard touchdown run, while Auburn’s longest pass (46 yards to Seth Williams) and run (16 yards by Boobee Whitlow) did not go for scores.

I’ll still give the edge to Florida, since those two explosive plays weren’t accidents. Mullen got Swain lined up against a linebacker, and that matchup is not random. Perine breaking a tackle and juking a defensive back wasn’t entirely random either. For the most part, UF’s defense did what its coaches exhort it to do and didn’t flinch.

Both teams can ponder what might’ve been if not for a handful of broken plays. Auburn had a 13-10 scoring edge absent those two explosive touchdowns, but two Gator fumbles and the bad fake punt attempt gifted the Tigers all three of their scoring drives. If UF punts in each of those three situations instead, it might’ve notched its third shutout of the year.

Neither team can reach its ceiling as long as those turnovers keep coming, and the fact that inexperience plays a huge role for both quarterbacks means they probably will keep coming for a time. In this one Florida weathered the storm better, allowing the Gators to survive and advance.