Auburn Football: Defense Must Get Off to a Better Start


The fourth quarter fumbles got a lot of attention following Auburn’s 41-38 loss to Texas A&M Saturday, but the Tigers’ defense put the team in a big hole in the first half against the Aggies that left zero room for error for the comeback attempt.

With 13:32 left in the first quarter, the scoreboard read 14-0. At halftime, A&M led 35-17.

“That’s the thing we’ve got to fix,” Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. “We’ve got to get off to a better start defensively.”

Sure, the defense isn’t solely to blame. Texas A&M had premium field position on their second scoring drive because Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne fumbled on the first offensive play of the game. Plus, the final touchdown of the first half came on a blocked field goal attempt

However, the defense did allow a 60-yard touchdown pass on the game’s opening drive, a 36-yarder for the second touchdown, and two more TD strikes by true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen before the final 30 minutes of the game were done.

It was the fourth consecutive game in which the Auburn defense allowed 31 points or more, and the Tigers are just 2-2 over that span. Since beating LSU 41-7 October 4, the Tigers have allowed an average of 35.5 points and 486 yards of total offense. In the first half of those four games, the Tigers have allowed 25.3 points on average.

So, what’s going on with the defense?

“That’s the thing that’s been so frustrating,” defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said this week. “The missed assignments have come down but they always seem to be real glaring — turn a man loose in man coverage, hit a blitz and hit the wrong gap, trip up another guy and you don’t get the pressure on a guy and all of a sudden now you can’t cover for five seconds.”

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Simply, the Tigers are making both physical errors and mental errors. Tackling is a physical issue. So is talent. Sometimes, players just aren’t physically gifted enough to make plays.

But missed assignments are tougher to diagnose. The players are at fault for some, but the coaching staff is to blame as well.

Coming in to the season, we understood that there were question marks on the defensive side of the football. The team lacked a true pass rusher, and the secondary had some talented players, but no true shutdown corner. In the last four games, we’ve seen that those physical issues have not been solved.

“Guys are playing with great effort,” Johnson said. “I know it’s important to them. They’re trying hard. They are practicing hard. We are just making some mistakes sometimes that are uncharacteristic. When we find the answer to that, we have to coach better, play a little harder, coach smarter, something. But we’ve got to eliminate those six or eight plays a game where we just don’t make them earn it.”

The defense responded in the second half of the game against Texas A&M. The Tigers held the Aggies out of the end zone over the final 30 minutes of the game, and allowed just two field goals. But the early hole was too big to overcome for the explosive Auburn offense.

For the Tigers to get back in the win column this week against Georgia – the SEC’s top scoring offense – the defense must be ready to go from the opening kickoff. Another large first half deficit is likely to lead to another loss.

Next: Iron Bowl to Kickoff in Primetime

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