Auburn Defense is “Violent” According to LA Tech’s Skip Holtz


Sep 12, 2013; Ruston, LA, USA; Louisiana Tech Bulldogs head coach Skip Holtz thanks the band for playing the school alma mater at the end of their game against the Tulane Green Wave at Joe Aillet Stadium. Tulane won, 24-15. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, how far the Auburn defense has come.

After being charged as the weak link during the run to the 2013 SEC Championship and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game, the Tigers have earned some respect for their play on the defensive side of the football. According to Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz, who will bring his team to Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday, the Auburn defense is “violent.”

“It all starts up front with their defensive lineman,” Holtz said. “They are so big and athletic and violent. They do not just tackle you, they are trying to rip your head off when they throw you to the ground.”

Holtz’s comments came on a weekly conference call with media members in anticipation of this weekend’s matchup against the No. 5 Auburn Tigers. The head coach and his coaching staff have been preparing for the Tigers since Sunday by watching film of Auburn’s first three games. Apparently, Holtz was impressed.

The Auburn defense certainly looks like a different unit on paper through the first three games of the 2014 season. Last year, Auburn ranked 12th in the SEC in total defense and allowed 420.7 yards per game. The Tigers allowed 162.1 rushing yards per game, and 258.6 yards through the air on average, which ranked tenth and 13th in the league, respectively. However, the unit often made plays when they needed to – particularly with a strong pass rush.

“We’re kind of the opposite of what we were last year,” defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said in his Sunday press conference. “We weren’t good at the run, and then on third down, we could get to the quarterback. This year, we’ve been good against the run, especially the interior guys.”

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“Good against the run” may be an understatement. The Auburn defense has allowed a grand total of 258 rushing yards through three games this season – an average of 86 yards per contest. Opponents have gained that yardage on 104 carries, which means the Tigers are allowing only 2.5 yards per rush.

Think of it this way: the Arkansas Razorbacks are averaging an SEC-leading 324.5 rushing yards per game, an output that ranks eighth nationally. The Hogs have averaged 7.1 yards per attempt, which is also the best in the SEC and ranks fourth in the country among FBS teams. However, Arkansas gained only 153 yards on the ground against the Auburn defense in Week 1 on 29 attempts. The Razorbacks could manage only three yards in the second half.

But, Auburn is also much improved against the pass. In 2014, the Auburn defense is allowing 224.7 passing yards per game, which means they have shaved 24 yards off of last year’s average. Combined with their impressive rush defense, the Tigers are surrendering 310.7 total yards per game, which currently means Auburn is the fourth best total defense in the Southeastern Conference, statistically speaking. The Auburn defense has also forced six interceptions, which is tied for the second most in the league.

And the yardage totals and turnovers have made an impact on the scoreboard. Auburn is now allowing 16 points per game in 2014 after surrendering 24.7 points on average last season – an improvement of well more than a touchdown per contest. It’s early, but the strong start is encouraging.

Of course, at least in Holtz’s mind, the Tigers have improved on the field, not just in the box score.

“We have watched a lot of film from 2013, and I do not think it is close how much better they are this year than what they were a year ago,” Holtz said. “It is scary to think that a year ago they competed for the national championship, and yet, they are a lot better.”

No matter how much they’ve improved on paper, or how violet they look on film, the Auburn defense will have their hands full with Louisiana Tech this Saturday. The Bulldogs are scoring 33.3 points per game this season and have accounted for 387.3 yards per game with a balanced attack. Quarterback Cody Sokol has 1,009 passing yards and running back Kenneth Dixon – one of the best ball carriers in the country – has 404 rushing yards through four games.

Auburn will host Louisiana Tech at 3:00pm Central Saturday September 27. The broadcast can be seen nationally on the SEC Network.