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Louisville Beating Auburn: A Real Possibility if Not Probable

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Surging Louisville set to challenge Auburn.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

With Louisville's matchup against #6 Auburn less than 2 weeks away, we want to outline the matchups between the respective offensive and defensive units. The matchup will be one of strength on strength (Auburn’s Offense versus Louisville’s Defense) and a battle of question marks in the Louisville offense and Auburn defense.

Jeremy Johnson appears to be the "real-deal" replacement for Nick Marshall. He appears to have a grasp of Gus Malzahn’s offensive scheme. Look for a much more balanced attack from Auburn given the loss of the majority of their rushing output. Louisville’s defense is expected to reload with possibly a stronger front 7 than last season’s top 10 unit.

We want to take a look at these two teams closer as our models had the win probability at a maximum of 51.8% in favor of Auburn. We do not see a 10+ point victory for Auburn in any model we ran; in fact, our power rankings at CFBRatings.com have Auburn 21st and Louisville at 24th. These are the same models that predicted 79.8% of last year’s FBS games.

For the projection, we will take Auburn’s offensive stats from last season versus Louisville’s 2014 defensive performance. The projected Louisville year 2 offensive performance versus the projected year 1 Auburn defensive statistics will be utilized for the other half of the equation.  A simple average will be used for the projections.

Auburn Offense

Category

Auburn Offense

Louisville Defense

Rushing YPG

255.5 YPG

108.9 YPG Allowed

Pass Efficiency

156.8

105.7 Allowed

Total Offense (Defense)

485 YPG

308.5 YPG Allowed

Scoring

35.5 PPG

21.8 PPG Allowed

Louisville Offense

Bobby Petrino is undefeated in season openers. At 10-0, he has an average margin of victory of 23.6 points (20 points at Louisville). Year-2 Petrino offenses tend to be significantly improved over year 1; points per game go up by over 47%. One can argue strength of schedule during his tenure at Louisville, however, while at Arkansas, his teams averaged 32.8 points per game over his 4-year tenure. Additionally, in years 2 through 4, his teams averaged 36.4 points per game. (36.0, 36.5, and 36.8 respectively).

Louisville returns a stable of quarterbacks that all have starting experience and a full year learning the offense. QB Efficiency in year one averages 133.1 for Petrino coached teams. Year 2 QB Efficiency jumps to 162.1; last season QB efficiency was an expected 131.2. The largest question is easily the offensive line with a very young and inexperienced group. However, the indications from the Louisville camp is this is one of the largest, most athletic lines they have had.

Auburn Defense

The general feeling from those close to the Auburn program is a marginal increase in defensive production will produce an SEC Championship and a CFB playoff berth. Adding Will Muschamp as their defensive coordinator is significant for the program. Last season, Auburn was average at best defensively. Year-1 Muschamp defenses improve over the previous coaching regime; however, it is his second season as a DC that his defenses reach that dominant level. On average, Muschamp’s first-year teams improve in total defense by 14.8%, scoring defense improves by 19.2%, and pass efficiency defense improves by 10.1%. Rushing defense actually gets 4.7% worse than the previous season. Taking that improvement, Auburn could have a top 20 defense this season; in fact, it is highly likely they will.

Auburn returns 6 starters from last year’s defense and 4 of their top 5 tacklers. They are loaded with high quality talent, but do they have enough of what Muschamp needs to be successful in the opener?

Louisville Offense

Year 1 – 2 Improvement

2014 Actual

2015 Projection

Rushing Offense – 6.5%

142.7 YPG

151.9 YPG

Pass Efficiency – 21.7%

131.2

159.7

Total Offense – 9.8%

394.7 YPG

433.3 YPG

Scoring Offense – 47.3%

31.2 PPG

45.9 PPG

Auburn Defense

Year 1 Improvement

2014 Actual

2015 Projection

Rushing Defense – (4.7%)

168.8 YPG

176.8 YPG

Pass Efficiency Defense – 10.1%

124.19

111.64

Total Defense – 14.8%

398.8 YPG

339.6 YPG

Scoring Defense – 19.2%

26.7 PPG

21.6 PPG

Game Projection

Category

Auburn

Louisville

Rushing Yards

182

164

Pass Efficiency

131.2

135.7

Total Offense Yards

397

387

Score

30

34

We gave Auburn an extra point for rounding and a more reasonable final score.

Explanation

Louisville’s offense projects to be top 5 in scoring and Auburn’s defense projects out in the top 20 nationally. Auburn’s offense and Louisville’s defense projects to both be top 10. We did assume each would perform at their season average levels for the game. Those are obviously larger questions for a first game. Can Auburn get in rhythm on offense without Nick Marshall? Is Jeremy Johnson the next Cam Newton? Has the Louisville defense truly reloaded? Can the Louisville offense hold up against an attacking Auburn defense? These are all questions that will be answered September 5th in Atlanta.