Slow Start Haunts Auburn Defense In Loss

Auburn's defense struggled early in a loss to LSU and coordinator Ellis Johnson talks about why that happened.

Auburn, Ala.--It wasn't the start that Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was hoping for Saturday night in Baton Rouge.

Facing a third and two near midfield on LSU's first possession, running back Jeremy Hill broke through the Auburn defense and raced 49 yards for the touchdown. Just under two minutes later Hill was back in the end zone again. following a fumbled snap by punter Steven Clark. LSU got the ball on the Auburn 10 and one play later it was 14-0.

Those contributed to 89 first quarter yards on the ground and 144 yards of total offense for LSU. Just minutes into the second half and Hill was off again, this time for 54 yards and his third score of the night. Already with 140 yards on the night the 6-2, 235-pound sophomore put his stamp on the game early.

While Auburn changed alignments to try to match personnel with LSU's big offensive line and oversized fullback such as adding an extra defensive lineman at times, Johnson said the early problems came as a result of LSU executing and winning the battles. What resulted were the trash plays that Johnson and every defense coach despises.

"No, they just got whipped," Johnson said of his defense. "We got cut off on the backside and the back made a great cut. We had four missed tackles on one play. It didn't matter who you had on the field."

Part of the problem for Auburn's defense Saturday night was missed assignments, something that puts the defense out of position to make plays or prevent big gains. Johnson said against LSU there were 17. While there were missed tackles along the way as well, the first-year Auburn coordinator said that wasn't the problem as much as his guys not being in the right position to make a play in the first place.

"We only had 12 in the whole game, which that is not great, but against a big-time SEC team that ain't real bad," Johnson said. "I'm going to tell you, it's like my little boy coming home and saying, 'Dad, I didn't have any errors today,' but he never went after the ball. You see some of those great players and Major Leaguers have an error because they're the only guy who can get to that ball. We have some guys that were not in position to miss a tackle."

Following the monster start by Hill, Auburn's defense settled down and played better football. Allowing just 40 yards to the back on his final 17 carries of the game, Johnson said it was just a matter of the players settling in and the staff making some adjustments as well.

"Mainly we were playing five defensive linemen in our short-yardage packages, just trying to get more bigger people out there because of their personnel," Johnson said. "It looked good all week in practice, but frankly, their offensive line out-executed us.

"We also had some issues with it," he said. "It didn't feel comfortable so we go out of it. In the second half we went back to some other things we'd been doing in short yards. We finally got them settled down on some formations and what was coming off of them. We played a little bit better in the second half--got some pressure on the quarterback a little bit better."

Something that should help Auburn's defense is the continued development of freshmen such as Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson as well as the emergence of Justin Delaine. All have provided quality minutes the last two weeks for the Tigers and Johnson said with a bye week and a chance for those guys to work on fundamentals and correcting mistakes, it could mean even more playing time for them in the future.

"They're doing well," Johnson said. "Montravius, right now, is right there neck-and-neck with the starters but still has to learn what to do--a few assignment things to keep him behind. Physically, he's playing good.

"Elijah is getting in on passing downs quite a bit. He might be as good of a one-on-one pass rusher as we have. He's got a great first step, good power. Can use him inside or outside. Carl played a few snaps the other not. Carl has done well.

"They just continue to progress," the coach added. "That's an area where we've got some guys back and we've got a lot of competition. Justin Delaine has had a couple of really good games. LaDarius (Owens) has played good for us in spots."

That additional depth, particularly up front, is one of the reasons why Auburn's defense has continued to play well in the second half of games. Johnson said if they can only get out of the gate faster and eliminate the big plays his first Auburn defense has a chance to get much better.

"We probably played better in the second half," Johnson said. "You make somebody punt six times, you get a fourth-down stop and you get two takeaways, you say, ‘That's a pretty good day.' But we got five touchdowns because of explosive plays, maybe two touchdowns and a field goal or two or something of that nature.

"We just still continue to have these five or six plays that are just ugly," he added. "Not to take anything from the opponent, but it's more self-inflicted and we've just got to get them cleaned up."

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