That doesn't mean it was all great for the veteran defensive coordinator however as he found plenty to be critical of with his defense after allowing 24 first downs and 422 yards of total offense. Giving up 74 rushing yards to the quarterback on scrambles, Johnson said the mistakes are still plentiful, but overall he was pleased with keeping the Red Wolves out of the endzone.
"The tackling was probably an A-minus," Johnson said. "It was good at times, it was physical. It was more physical than it has been, but we had some that looked a little ugly. Some space tackles that we've got to start making. Those are critical because it gives up a lot of those extra yardage. Guys, I think, sometimes are trying to take a little bit too aggressive shots. Sometimes you've just got to make the sure tackle.
"Other than that the thing that concerns me right now is we're not getting ourselves off the field quick enough. Sometimes they're quick-strike scores and things of that nature, but the biggest issue right now is we're giving up too many first downs. Third-down defense is not that bad; I think we're about 38 percent right now, counting those fourth downs that we stopped them. But we're giving up first downs on those second downs. Overall, we're way down on allowing first downs by opponents, and that's got to stop.
"We've got a lot of things we can improve on. But like I told the players, any time somebody doesn't touch the end zone, you've done something right. I think that was most right was their effort and their ability to finish plays and finish series and tackle better and just play a little bit more aggressively, I thought, than we did the first game."
One of the parts of the defense that Johnson was pleased to see take a step forward was at linebacker where Jake Holland and Cassanova McKinzy combined for 14 tackles. Sophomore Kris Frost added five tackles as well before being ejected for targeting the Arkansas State quarterback. Johnson said he saw some good things from all three in addition to Anthony Swain.
"They were a lot better this week, more productive," Johnson said. "Of course, it was a different style of game, too. The first game they threw the ball around the park. They hit the one-back draw up inside that one time we should have made the play on. Another time, it was a tough play but we could have made the play on. The rest of the time the ball was being thrown around outside and they didn't have a lot of opportunities, but the production wasn't there.
"This game they had some opportunities and we made some opportunities," he added. "Between the three that played the most in Kris Frost, Cassanova and Jake, probably totaled about 15, maybe 20 tackles. I'm rotating them a lot. And, of course, Kris had the ejection so I had to play Jake more than I wanted to. I wanted to keep rotating those guys."
Getting ready to face Mississippi State in what is always a physical game for the Tigers, Johnson said they'll have to make some adjustments with Frost suspended for the first half. That likely includes moving Swain to middle linebacker where he played some in the spring. Johnson added that Swain could play both spots and may be the top backup at both for the Tigers this week.
As for the hit by Frost, Johnson said they didn't get a good look at the collision but for him that wasn't the biggest mistake on the play.
"It really wasn't clear enough," Johnson said. "It was so far on the edge of our tape that it wasn't clear enough. I thought it was late. He definitely didn't try to go head-to-head, but he was a little bit late. The biggest thing is he was in man coverage and he should not have left his man because the quarterback was still in trouble. He was running around outside the pocket, but there were linemen in pursuit."
Tiger Ticket Notes:
Johnson said that they're hoping to have Justin Garrett and Dee Ford back this week, but it will depend on how both look throughout the week. He said they would be cautious with both to make sure they are full speed.
One of the players that has made a big difference on defense is junior end LaDarius Owens. Finishing with eight tackles, two tackles for a loss, and one sack, Owens is becoming more comfortable back at his home position and sees a big difference in the confidence of the defense through two games.
"It's changed a lot," Owens said. "Just coming into it with a different attitude this year, just wiping out this year. We're closer as a team, as a unit, as a defense. These first two games we got a lot of young guys playing. It built their confidence. They're out there with us and it's built the confidence of those who endured what we went through last year. It's big going into SEC. We know what's coming and we know how to prepare for it. We're just going to take this confidence we've had so far and build on it next week."