Advanced Stats Applauds Auburn, but Penn State was Just Too Much

Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers:

maypp: Penn State: 3.88; Auburn: 3.07
spr: Penn State: 54.5; Auburn: 46.8
%npp: Penn State 27.3; Auburn: 31.2
Gameplay Score: Penn State 24.5 Auburn 19.1

First thing: a tip of the cap to the Auburn Tigers and coach Bryan Harsin. They walked into what might be the most disorienting environment in sports, against a defense that played really well (3.07 maypp against what was an above average offense last year), and executed. 46.8% successful plays to only 31.2% non-positive plays, in that environment, is an extremely well coached football team that executed better than could reasonably be expected.

But as the title expressly says, Penn State was just too much.

Auburn fans have a lot of faith in their defense. Truthfully, we have no idea how good that defense actually is. It was above-average-but-not-better-than-that last year, has new coaches, and the only other games were against Akron and Alabama State. But assuming it's at least a solidly above average defense (which given the new staff's well-demonstrated competence and as much as they've got back, I think is fair), Penn State's offensive numbers are very, very good. And they could have been noticeably more gross if Mustipher is (correctly) given the first down. That would have been another successful play, taken away a non-positive play, and pushed Penn State's maypp over 3.9.

The stunning inability to convert thoroughly makeable 3rd and 4th downs put a damper on several possessions that could've and would've added a lot of yards and points. Because when a team is getting 3.9 median-average yards per play, over 50% of plays are successful, and they're extremely rarely not going forward, the defense is simply not stopping them.

Defensively, a la the Wisconsin game, Penn State gave up way too many successful plays, but didn't give up big plays and forced the opponent to a pretty inefficient day overall. 3.07 maypp against this Penn State defense will likely look pretty solid at season's end, but it's not good enough to win against an offense moving the football as well as Penn State was. But they kept (almost; Auburn did have one 36 yard play when Pry decided to have adventures in 2020 playcalling for a play) everything in front of them, tightened up in the red zone, and capitalized on a big Auburn mistake. Auburn's offense was thoroughly untested coming into the game, but they did take care of business the way they should in their previous games. Penn State held them to a gameplay score under 20 points. That's pretty good.

But more than anything, Auburn's execution on offense speaks to just how good this Penn State defense is. Because having an spr over 45% and over 15% more successful plays than non-positive ones is doing an excellent job of taking what the defense gives you. But as 3.07 maypp shows, they don't give much.

If we're going to credit Auburn, and I think they deserve it, a lot more goes to Penn State. Because Penn State was just better across the board and earned the win.

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