Last season the Auburn defense allowed 374.4 yards and 27.5 points per game through 13 games. This season through 13 games Auburn has surrendered 362.1 yards and 24.5 points per game. It is indeed an improvement, but not to the level most had hoped for this season.
So how did a three percent improvement in yards allowed and 10 percent improvement in points allowed translate to a 38 percent improvement in victories? It helps to have a record-setting offense to team up with, but the defense had its moments to aid in the journey to Glendale, Arizona.
Before the season began Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof's two primary goals were to improve the run defense and limit the number of big plays allowed. Last season Auburn allowed 156.4 yards per game on the ground at 4.12 yards per rush. This included four games in which the opponent rushed for more than 200 yards and an average of 108.8 yards per game to the opponent's leading rusher. It was only the second time since 1977 an Auburn defense allowed over four yards per rush.
Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof is finishing his second season with the Tigers.
During the 2010 campaign Auburn allowed 111.7 yards per game on the ground at 3.49 yards per rush. You would have to go back to 2004, when Auburn allowed 3.28 yards per rush, for a better average.
Only one opponent surpassed 200 yards rushing against the Tigers this season and the opponent's leading rusher averaged 63.9 yards per game. In terms of conference play, Auburn improved from 175.5 yards allowed rushing per game in 2009 to 120.3 yards in 2010.
One of the reasons for Auburn's improvement in run defense this season has been the performance of the front four. During the 2009 season the defensive line accounted for 44 tackles for loss. This season the defensive line has 60 stops for negative yardage. This includes an interior line that totaled 16 tackles for loss in 2009 improving to 32.5 in 2010. Nick Fairley draws the majority of attention, but the combination of Mike Blanc, Zach Clayton and Jeffrey Whitaker has been unyielding.
Big plays allowed...
Last season through 13 games the defense surrendered 27 plays of 30 yards or more or one every 37.8 plays. The 2010 Tigers have allowed 17 big plays through 13 games or one every 52.4 plays, which marked a major improvement for the defense.
During the 2009 season the Auburn defense allowed a big run every 70.4 rushes, which improved to one every 138.7 rushes in 2010.
Making the opposing offense work hard for yardage was a key this season rather than giving up large amounts of yardage on one play. In 2009 24.1 percent of the opponents' total yardage gained was the result of a big play. This season, the big play percentage dropped to 16.4 percent.
Though their overall numbers (yards and points allowed) might not have seen a major improvement, the 2010 defense has certainly learned how to close out a football game. The difference between the first half and second half of games is remarkable and one of the primary reasons why Auburn is undefeated going into the national championship game. Here are some notable improvements made after halftime this season.
•Of the 17 big plays allowed, 10 occurred during the first half and seven during the second half. This includes seven during the first period and only two during the fourth period.
•Auburn has allowed 211.5 yards at 5.8 yards per play during the first half and 150.6 yards at 4.7 yards per play during the second half. This includes 217.0 yards at 6.4 yards per play during the first half of conference games and 153.1 yards at 5.1 yards per play during the second half.
•During the first halves of games 42.7 percent of the opponent's plays netted two yards or less. During the second half, it increased to 49.2 percent. In terms of conference games, it was 40.3 percent in the first half and 50.9 percent during the second half.
•During the last six games of the season, Auburn recorded 12 tackles for loss in the first half and 24 during the second half.
•Auburn's defense allowed 3.64 yards per rush in the first half and 3.34 yards during the second half.
•During the first half Auburn has a defensive pass efficiency rating of 147.3 during and a rating of 114.1 during the second half. This includes allowing 151.3 yards passing during the first half and 99.1 yards during the second half.
•Last season Auburn allowed 108 points in the fourth period alone. This season the defense has allowed 117 points during the entire second half.
•During the last six games of the 2009 season the defense allowed 19.8 second half points per game. This season during the last six games Auburn has allowed an average of 7.8 points during the second half.
Senior middle linebacker Josh Bynes is Auburn's leading tackler.
Facing one of the nation's best offenses, the Auburn defense will be relentlessly tested by the Ducks. Though Oregon will have the most dynamic offense Auburn has faced this season, the formula for success on defense will be the same. The primary goals will be stopping the run and limiting the big plays just as it has been all season. The final goal will be closing strong just as the Auburn defense has accomplished for the majority of the season.
In reality the only statistic which will matter on January 10th will be the final score. Auburn's defense needs only to hold Oregon to one less point than Auburn scores.
From 2006-2008 Auburn won 25 football games in which the defense allowed 10.6 points per game during those victories. Over the past two seasons, Auburn has won 21 of 26 games while allowing 24.9 points per game during the victories.
Safety Zac Etheridge made a major comeback from a 2009 career threatening neck/spine injury to start every game as a senior.
Auburn fans love their defense, but winning should always be the primary goal. Over the past two seasons, Auburn has won primarily with offense, which has been unsettling for some fans. On January 10th the Tigers must make enough plays to capture their first national championship since 1957 and it won't make a difference whether or not it is the offense, defense or special teams making them.
The defense has made four to five critical stops in every game this season, which has helped keep the team undefeated through 13 games. Overall, Auburn has not been dominating on defense, but the Tigers have been dominating during parts of every game.
Oregon is the most impressive team Auburn has faced in 2010, but the Tigers only need to do what they do as a team. The combination of the best offense in school history and an opportunistic defense has resulted in a 13-0 record and a conference championship. This formula for success punched Auburn's ticket to the BCS national title game and it should be enough to give Auburn an opportunity to win the most important game in school history.