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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Defense: What Must Auburn Do?

Will Muschamp photo courtesy Chris O'Meara AP images

It's no secret. Auburn has slipped overall defensively since the start of the 2008 season. Or have they?

Last season the Tigers intercepted more passes than the previous 2 seasons combined. Take away a very dismal 2012 where the defense only managed 2 INT's and add the 2011 season and it's very close. 2014-22 INT's 2013 & 2011-24. Against the pass, our DB's were getting better. Or were they?

Judging by those numbers you would think that Auburn's pass defense had improved dramatically under Ellis Johnson's scheme. You'd be somewhat wrong. Defensive back play may have improved, but not the entire defensive unit. Take a look.

Season    Pass Break up    QB Hurries    TFL    Scoring D    Total D
2008              42                             49       75       14th/18.0     29th
2009              49                             71       77       76th/27.5     68th
2010              39                             99       99        53/24.1       60th
2011              37                             63       74        78/28.9       80th
2012              40                             55       66        65/28.3       81st
2013              55                           109       90        47/24.7       87th
2014              47                             85       82        63/26.7       66th

Yes moving out of the positional ranks of the 80's into the 60's is improvement, technically. although 8 other SEC teams were ranked higher than Auburn in 2014.

Two reasons for using the 2008 season for the starting point. First this was where the players that Will Muschamp recruited to Auburn would first be without their leader. Muschamp had moved on to the Defensive Coordinator position at Texas, with hopes of becoming the next head coach.

Secondly, 2008 was the end of the huddle and call the play offense for the Tigers. In an effort to increase offensive output Tommy Tuberville hired Tony Franklin. That move ended in disaster for both coaches.

In 2009 Gene Chizik was hired, and he brought in Gus Malzahn to run the offense. Things changed dramatically after 2008. Especially when Auburn had possession of the football.

With the success of the Tigers offensively, and other schools such as Baylor, and Oklahoma State, more college football teams were running some sort of Hurry-Up-No-Huddle (HUNH) system. Defensive Coordinators all across the country were scrambling to find ways to combat the new twist in offenses, and fell behind the curve. Except for one guy, Will Muschamp.

Muschamp had been hired to replace Gene Chizik at Texas as DC and quickly adjusted to life in the Big12 and the speedy offenses he would face. From 2008 to 2009 the Longhorn defense went from 51st to 3rd in Total defense. A dramatic improvement. In 2010 they finished ranked 6th in Total Defense.

The key to any good defense is having correct fundamentals. While asking several friends what they thought Auburn lacked most in recent seasons, "Open Field Tackling" was the #1 answer. This gave me some insight, and confidence that what I had been seeing was in line with their observations. Auburn lacked basic fundamentals, defensively.

Open field tackling had gone by the wayside for the ESPN Sports Center highlight hit. This style of attacking a ball carrier usually ends up with a defender flinging his body at their opponent shoulder first, feet off the ground, and aiming below the head. The results were more often than not a clean miss, allowing the ball carrier to run free in the secondary.

For Auburn, this would be the most costly of all habits. Playing FSU in Pasadena for the BCS crown, two Auburn defenders were in position to make a stop on a quick sideline pass to the WR, and the first defender went for the big hit and whiffed. This put the second defender out of position, and FSU advanced the ball 49 yards down field, setting up the eventual game winning TD for the Seminoles.

While all the blame for losing that game can not be put to this one play, it is however a perfect example of the devastation caused by not having proper fundamentals to execute any defensive strategy. 

With Muschamp being tabbed to change things defensively for the Tigers, our players attitudes have changed.

This excerpt from an al.com article by Brandon Marcello gives some insight to the confidence Auburn's players have in their new DC: "We can definitely be a top 10 defense," Auburn safety Rudy Ford said. "We're going to be very great coming into our future and everything. We're going to be very great. We're going to be one of the toughest defenses to play."

Longtime Auburn fans remember the former defense of Will Muschamp, and long for those days. 

War Eagle!

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