Auburn Football: Tigers Defense Isn’t Physical Enough


Mississippi State 38, Auburn 23

Auburn 42, South Carolina 35

Auburn 35, Ole Miss 31

Texas A&M 41, Auburn 38

Georgia 34, Auburn 7

Everyone knows the Tigers have struggled on defense over the past five games of the 2014 season. You don’t have to watch the film or dive into the stats. You can tell by looking at the final scores.

The question is: why?

As I was sitting on a runway in Reno, Nevada Sunday morning, I posed this question to Booger McFarland, via Twitter.

His answer was simple. The Auburn defense isn’t physical enough.

It’s hard to argue, and McFarland knows a thing or two about defense. He was an All-American defensive lineman at LSU, a first round pick in the NFL and a Super Bowl champion with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts. Also, as an analyst for the SEC Network, McFarland does watch the film, dive into the stats and more.

Auburn has struggled this season with a variety of issues on defense. Busted coverages, poor tackling, over pursuing plays, and Booger said, a lack of physicality.

Football in the Southeastern Conference has always been won or lost at the line of scrimmage – which is easily and obviously the most physically challenging area of the field. The Tigers haven’t won enough battles at the line of scrimmage lately.

Across the first five games of the season, Auburn allowed an average of 100.2 rushing yards per game. And while the Tigers didn’t exactly play the New York Giants in August, September or early October, they did face teams that prefer a physical brand of football: Arkansas, Kansas State and LSU. Those three opponents averaged 110.3 yards on the ground against Auburn.

Since, it’s been a much different story.

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Georgia had two running backs with more than 140 yards, and the Bulldogs finished the game with 289 rushing yards – the most a Johnson-coached Auburn defense has allowed. Combined with the four previous games, the Tigers have allowed 190.6 rushing yards on average.

That’s a stark difference. Over the last five games, the Auburn football team has allowed 90.4 more rushing yards per game than they did in the first five. It started with Mississippi State’s physical duo of Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson who led the Bulldogs to 223 rushing yards in a 38-23 Auburn loss.

And the problem isn’t just against the run. The Tigers have also allowed 280.6 passing yards per game in their last five contests compared to 206.4 in the first five games of the season. A lack of physicality when rushing the passer gives the quarterback time to find open receivers. Auburn didn’t have a sack against South Carolina and the Gamecocks threw for 416 yards. Texas A&M true freshman Kyle Allen was sacked once for a loss of two yards. He tossed four touchdowns.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson knows his unit has struggled, but he doesn’t agree that physicality is part of the equation. He thinks the Tigers are making too many little mistakes.

“The mistakes we made are what really kept us from being able to lift us out of that hole,” Johnson said Sunday. “It wasn’t the physicality of it, or the nature of their performance, it was a lot of little mistakes, where you do those against great athletes, normally you’re going to end up with a big play.”

However, it’s hard to ignore the scores. And the film. And the stats.

Next: Auburn Injury Report: Duke Williams Update

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