Physical Test For Improving Defensive Line

Auburn's defense will face a tough challenge from the Arkansas running game Saturday night.

Auburn, Ala.--Entering this week's game allowing just 138.5 yards rushing per game and part of a defensive that has produced 20 sacks this season, the Auburn front four will face one of its toughest tests Saturday night when the Tigers roll into Arkansas to face the physical Razorbacks' running game.

Solid all season long in the first year under coordinator Ellis Johnson, the defense has only really been victimized in two games this season and both came in SEC games against physical opponents.

Against Mississippi State it was quarterback Dak Prescott who did much of the damage for the Bulldogs on the way to MSU's 202 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. LSU did it with the running of tailback Jeremy Hill leading the way to the tune of 228 yards and four scores.

Since that time the Tigers have been much better on the ground, giving up just 421 total rushing yards and two touchdowns in the last four games.

Dee Ford is playing well for the Tigers this season as part of Rodney Garner's rotation on the defensive line

This weekend Auburn faces an Arkansas team determined to run the football under first-year coach Bret Bielema. With 316 rushing attempts this season compared to just 196 pass attempts, the Razorbacks like to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible.

Averaging 209.9 yards per game, Arkansas features talented backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. The duo has combined for 1,409 yards and eight touchdowns. That is all but 275 yards of the Arkansas total this season.

The Tigers will still need to apply pressure to quarterback Brandon Allen even though the key to stopping Arkansas is controlling its ground attack. Completing just 44.9 percent of his passes, Allen is still capable of doing damage if Auburn can't put the heat on him said Johnson.

"The pass rush is still going to be hugely important in this game," Johnson said. "There will be more tight ends in the formation and we will have to be more physical at the point of attack because of that. Our guys have seen that before. Really, the thing that hurt us the last time we played an I-formation and two tight ends and stuff was LSU. It was about as close as you would say to Arkansas' identity.

"The biggest thing that hurt us in the running game there was not being physical at the line of scrimmage, we just got out of position," he added. "We messed around, left some gaps open and they did a real good job of hitting them. It was more Xs and Os and being in the right place at the right time than it was not being physical."

Being more physical in the running game has carried over in the pass rush as well for the Tigers. Last season the Tigers' defensive line had just 16 total sacks with 11 1/2 of those coming from Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier. In just eight games this year Auburn's front four has accounted for 18 sacks, all but two of the total for the Tigers to this point. While Ford is obviously a big part of that, Johnson said getting production from players such as Carl Lawson, Elijah Daniel and Montravius Adams has added some much-needed punch this season.

Freshman defensive tackle Montravius Adams has been a significant contributor to Auburn's 7-1 start.

"It's improved a lot, mainly because the young players that brought that natural ability are starting to get a grasp of the system and we can play them more frequently," Johnson said. "We don't have to worry about putting them in there in just little situational things. And the other thing is Dee. We missed Dee the first two or three games, got him back and the rust is off.

"The last two or three weeks, I just think he's really played extremely well. You also have to credit Craig (Sanders) and LaDarius (Owens), who stepped up and had their opportunities after two or three years of not playing a lot. Both of them got called on when Dee was not in. I think they've really improved and played very solid for us."

Auburn will face off against Arkansas at 5 p.m. CDT Saturday in Fayetteville. The game can be seen on ESPN2.

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