White: Third Downs "Kill Us"

Auburn cornerback Ryan White discusses the troubles on third down for the Tigers on defense.

Clemson, S.C.—It's not hard to look at Auburn's defensive performance in Saturday's loss to Clemson and see one statistic that most explains why Auburn's winning streak of 17 game ended at Memorial Stadium.

It wasn't the 38 points the visiting Tigers allowed or even the 624 yards of total offense rolled up by the home team. Instead, it was Clemson's ability to burn the Auburn defense on third down plays.

After getting off to a slow start, Clemson's offense finished the game converting 14 of 18 third down opportunities to bring down the Auburn Tigers.

"It kills us," Auburn sophomore cornerback Ryan White said of how his team has performed on third downs throughout the season. "That's especially true when you know you're going to get off the field and you've got to go three more.

"I think we've definitely got to do a better job at that for this team to win games," he said. "Once we get that corrected you'll see a different football team."

The three-game numbers show that White is exactly right. Auburn opponents have converted 35 of 55 third down situations.

After struggling on defense in the first two weeks at home, many expected to see the young Auburn defense do the same thing on the road at Clemson, but struggling was an understatement in game three.

Open Clemson receivers and missed tackles by Auburn defenders were too big of problem for Coach Gene Chizik's team to overcome. Following a first quarter in which Auburn play well defensively, Auburn struggled to keep the home team out of the end zone the next three periods.

"When you go on the road you've got to make plays," White said. "That's just the bottom line. I think we gave them a lot of first downs because of missed tackles and missed assignments. We're going to correct it and come back next week."

Many of Clemson's yards and points came as a direct result of missed tackles. Too many times in the game Auburn's defense was in a position to make a play for minimal yardage only to see the ball carrier running in the open soon after. The best example of that was on a 65-yard touchdown reception by Sammy Watkins on a simple hitch route where he just ran through two attempted tackles on the way to the score.

"I don't know," White said. "Maybe guys are dropping their heads or taking bad angles. We're in position. We're getting hats to the ball. I just don't know why we have all the missed tackles."

That was also the play that really put a stamp on the game for the visiting Tigers. Even though they answered back offensively with a field goal to cut the Clemson lead back to just four, defensively it opened the floodgates. Following that catch and run early in the third quarter Clemson's powered the way to a win.

White said Watkins was one of the differences in the game and as he built confidence so went the Clemson offense. "After that I think he got confidence and they started attacking the field more," White said. "From what I could see we weren't hitting with our eyes, we were just diving at him. He's a good player and when you play guys like that you've got to wrap him up and take him down."

That will be the goal for Auburn's defense not just against Watkins, but every opponent the rest of the season as the Tigers try to cut down on the video game numbers they're allowing on defense. If that doesn't happen it will be a long fall for Gene Chizik's club with road trips to South Carolina, Arkansas and LSU coming up in the month of October.

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