Defensive Tackles Looking For More Production

Comments from a trio of Auburn defensive linemen are featured as the Tigers prepare for their SEC opener.

Auburn, Ala.--After watching video of Auburn's 26-19 season-opening loss vs. Clemson, Jeff Whitaker said he thought the Tigers played hard on defense.

However, the starting tackle didn't say the Auburn defenders played well, which makes sense after allowing Clemson 28 first downs and 528 yards on Saturday night at the Georgia Dome.

Noting missed tackles as the biggest problem, the junior said, "I think there were some times we got out of our gaps and were not patient enough, but I think overall everything we messed up on and didn't do right is visible."

As a group the defensive tackles finished the opener with just five tackles. "There are no excuses from us," Whitaker said. "We just didn't get the job done."

Another tackle, sophomore Gabe Wright, said the review of the game video showed there were mental errors made, but put a positive spin on the Tigers' blunders, saying the mistakes can all be easily fixed.

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd had an impressive outing against Auburn, completing 23-34 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. Auburn's tackles had a difficult time catching up with the elusive QB.

"Boyd is an athletic quarterback, but he likes to sit back there and pick defenses apart," Whitaker said of the dual-threat QB. "I think once he saw the pushing in the pocket, and the two ends from the side rushing, he had the alertness to know he needed to get it off quick. I believe at some point it got to the point if his first read wasn't there he was running with it."

Stopping Boyd's runs proved to be a problem for the Tigers, despite the quarterback only rushing for a net of 58 yards on 19 attempts.

"We're not spying or anything, we're pass rushing in a sense, as well, but we have to cover each other," Wright said about the defensive line. "Most of the time we do talk about that. I'm not going to say the pace of their offense played a big part in that, but I think it did help them in a sense that our front four communicating was a little off."

Angelo Blackson, a sophomore defensive tackle who made his first college start in the Clemson game, noted that coordinator Coach Brian VanGorder's blitz package helped flush Boyd out of the pocket. However, Auburn's inability to consistently tackle the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage became a major issue.

Gabe Wright chases Tajh Boyd at the Georgia Dome.

Wright and Whitaker said it is difficult to disengage from an offensive lineman and get to a running quarterback with Boyd's quickness. "We call it retracing steps when you're pushing the pocket or pushing a certain amount at a rush angle and have to retrace when that quarterback steps up and tries to run," Whitaker said. "It was iffy a couple of times, but with Tajh Boyd, you have to give it to him, he made some great plays and kept them in the game. I told him he showed his toughness in that one."

Despite the fast-paced offense of Clemson that ran 87 plays, Whitaker said conditioning was not a problem during the game. "I just think it was different flow than what we were expecting to see," he explained.

"It was a pretty quick hurry-up. After the play it wasn't that there was speed, running to the ball, it was just walking up over the ball, the line, ready to go. I guess they were communicating to the refs because the refs would spot it, blow the whistle and it was going. The intensity was down, but it was still fast."

Auburn recorded four sacks, which Wright said was more than the team's goal of three. "Coach VanGorder stressed that he wants to have a four-man pass rush so we really need to step it up and do our job more," Wright said about penetrating the backfield.

The tackles' inability to do that on a consistent basis helped Clemson win the game, something its head coach, Dabo Swinney, mentioned after the game. Asked if those comments bothered him, Wright said, "Why wouldn't it? It's hard to speak on.

"It's pretty much past Clemson now," Wright added. "The coaches said it best, ‘you can't let a team beat you twice,' and I'm just going to sit here and reiterate that. We're really looking past Clemson right now. It's time to move on."

Wright, a part-time starter last year as a true freshman, noted that the defensive tackles are planning to use game one as motivation to do better this week. "I'm looking forward to Mississippi State to get that bad taste out of our mouth," he said.

Blackson predicted Saturday's contest vs. the Bulldogs, in the SEC opener for both teams, will be challenging. "They're going to come after us, we're going to go after them," he said. "It's just going to come down to who wants it more.

"It's going to be a physical game, 60 minutes. It's going to be hot. The team who plays the best and keeps their technique and composure at the end of the game is going to be the one that comes out with the win.

"We definitely have to step our game up this week," Blackson added.

Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. CDT on Saturday in Starkville. The game is a sellout and will be televised by ESPN as Auburn goes for a fifth straight victory in its series vs. the Bulldogs.

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