Getting ready to face an LSU offense capable of beating you with both the run and the pass, Johnson said the Tigers will need to continue to improve and get better at the little things if they want win number four this weekend.
"I thought we played hard and obviously when you make five stops on the last five possessions -- really five punts and a stop at the end of the game -- you've got to feel like you're doing something right," Johnson said. "But we continue to have these trash yardage plays and a couple of times it was a missed assignment, one time it was a missed tackle, other time quite frankly I think it was great execution by Mississippi State that caught us in a bind."
A big addition to Auburn's defense against Mississippi State was the return of defensive end Dee Ford and "star" Justin Garrett. While Ford brought an edge to the pass rush, Johnson said the addition of Garrett was huge because of a different look the Tigers showed.
With Robenson Therezie playing well at the "star" and Brandon King coming on strong at that position, Johnson moved Garrett back to the weak side at linebacker and the results were very positive. Even though he's still not full strength yet, Johnson said that Garrett did some good things and should be a big boost as the Tigers try to get their best 11 players on the field on defense.
"Justin came on the field, he's probably had a total of about 45 plays at Will linebacker when you really total it up," Johnson said. "He made some mistakes just having not played the position, but the first five plays he's on the field he makes three tackles and one tackle for loss. Some guys just have an instinct for making plays so it's my job to get him schooled up and better each week and better each day. He's going to play a lot and he may start."
With Cassanova McKinzy nursing a sore knee, Johnson said that it could mean putting Garrett back in the starting lineup as a linebacker. Because of LSU's powerful offense both are expected to play a significant role as could backup Anthony Swain, who saw time in the middle last week in practice because of the suspension of Kris Frost for the first half.
Without Frost available it meant more work for senior starter Jake Holland and he responded with eight tackles to tie for the team lead along with Ryan White. Playing every snap in the first half, Johnson said Holland had a good day as did Frost when he came in. The biggest thing Frost did was be able to give Holland a break in the second half said his position coach.
"I don't think Kris had but 1-2 tackles," Johnson said. "It was helpful in the fact that Jake (Holland) had to go 40-something snaps in the first half and I had moved Anthony Swain over and gotten him reps in practice and would have used him in an emergency, but he'd not had enough time to really get comfortable back at Mike. (So) when we had some good drives and I knew Jake wasn't too fatigued, I just left him in there. But (Holland) needed a blow. A lot of his issues were just fatigue, so it was good to get Kris back for that reason. But Jake played as well as Kris did overall, had more tackles, more production and really fit the run pretty good. I thought we played better up front in the second half and some of our interior guys really got after it and played a lot better."
One of the positions that Auburn is looking for playmakers is on the defensive line. Mixing up the alignments in the second half gave the Tigers a boost against Mississippi State, but Johnson said they need to get more out of the pass rush as they head into the meat of the SEC schedule. That could mean more work for true freshman Elijah Daniel inside at defensive tackle. Playing the position on third down on Saturday night, Johnson said Daniel gives them a different look and it could be used more often as the season progresses.
"He's got that quick twitch and it goes back to what we were just talking about," Johnson said of the pass rush. "If we put our very, very best four pass rushers, he's probably one of the best inside guys. He's physical enough to play one-on-one with the guards we got to play against but he's quick enough and fast enough and explosive enough to run the twists and get outside and control the quarterback and other things that out big tackles sometimes struggle with."
In other injury news the Tigers were without top cornerback Chris Davis because of a sprained ankle. Johnson said it will be day-to-day with the senior concerning his availability for the LSU game.