Auburn Defense and Special Teams vs Kansas State: Position Grades

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Sep 18, 2014; Manhattan, KS, USA; Kansas State Wildcats running back Charles Jones (24) tries to run by Auburn Tigers defensive back Joshua Holsey (15) during first-half action at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve heard of silver linings. Well, if there is an opposite, college football coaches have a way of finding them. After an impressive defensive performance in Manhattan, Kansas Thursday night, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson shared some of his displeasure during his weekly meeting with the media Sunday.

“We didn’t play a real clean game from an assignment standpoint,” Johnson said, alluding to mental mistakes on alignments and what K-State players should have been covered on certain defensive play calls, as well as what stunts and blitzes should have been carried out by defensive linemen and linebackers.

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There was also the matter of allowing Kansas State to convert eight of 14 third down attempts (57.1%), as well as some early penalties, including a crucial 4th-and-1 play in which a defensive lineman jumped and made contact with the offensive line, resulting in a first down.

Additionally, there were a few pass interference penalties, including two by cornerback Jonathan Jones. Luckily for Jones and the Tigers, Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett flubbed an easy touchdown reception, instead allowing it to bounce off of him and into the air where Jones intercepted it in the end zone. The pick was Auburn’s second of three forced turnovers in the game.

However, as we know, the Tigers played very well on defense. In fact, it was the play of the defense bailed out a less than stellar offensive performance.

“Fortunately for us, it was not our best effort in a game our defense played great, and we were able to find a way to win,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Sunday.

A major reason the Tigers were able to win was the defense’s ability to make an explosive Kansas State offense one-dimensional. Through four quarters, the Auburn defense held the Wildcats to only 40 rushing yards – and not because K-State abandoned the running game. The Wildcats averaged 1.3 yards per carry on 30 attempts.

Overall, the Tigers allowed 285 yards of total offense for an average of 4.1 yards per play. Statistically, the 20-14 Thursday night victory over Kansas State was the best performance the Auburn defense has had since Ellis Johnson came to town prior to the 2013 season.

It was a solid showing for the Auburn defense, and something the entire unit can build on.

“We’re steadily making progress,” Johnson said. “We’ve got some young players in some key roles. We’re not a real experienced defense, but at least they’ve been in this system another year, so it’s starting to help us in that respect. But, they’re improving not only by the physicality, they’re improving on their assignments, their alignments, technique, their stances, just little things that make a football player better. We still need to improve in a lot of those areas.”

Now, on to the position-by-position grades.