Cleaning Up Defensive Mistakes The Key For AU

Auburn's Ellis Johnson talks about the play of his defense against San Jose State, production from linebackers and more.

Auburn, Ala.--Coming off a performance where his defense allowed just 319 yards and 13 points in an easy win San Jose State, Auburn Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson still sees too many mistakes from the Tigers after two weeks of the 2014 season.

With 117 of those yards coming on two passing plays, Johnson says the goal for the defense during the off-week is to clean up the mistakes heading into the first road trip of the year at Kansas State next Thursday.

“We could have played a lot cleaner,” Johnson said. “I was disappointed in some of the plays we left on tape. I think we played 77 snaps. Sixty of them are as good as you want to see, but there are still those dozen plays or so every game where we do something that we've really worked on, kids are keyed in on it and we seem to make a mistake.”

The biggest play of the game for the Spartans came when Blake Jurich hit Tyler Ervin out of the backfield for a 75-yard touchdown on the second possession of the game for San Jose State. The well-designed play caught Josh Holsey in a tough situation with Ervin running out of the backfield and looking like a potential blocker on a wide receiver screen. Instead he turned up the field and raced for a touchdown with safety Derrick Moncrief coming over too late to help. Johnson said it was just a case of the defense getting mixed up, something that needs to be fixed.

“We had a couple of ugly pass plays,” Johnson said. “One was a miscommunication out back. The other one we cut somebody loose in man, but overall they're a good football team. I think obviously talent wise we had better players, but they are a football team. We've got to give them credit, they can execute, they know what they're doing, they know who they are and their precision of the routes and some of the things, they made some great catches. We could have played better but I thought we did improve in some areas.”

While there were some negative plays for the defense, the Tigers also had some big plays as well with three interceptions and for a brief moment a fumble recovery on the first possession of the game for San Jose State until a facemask penalty overturned the call. Johnson said causing turnovers has been a bright spot so far, but have been surrounded by simple mistakes to keep drives alive.

“The facemask was not a penalty,” Johnson said. “There was no facemask on that play. Somebody had the head about like this and what can you do? That's first-and-10 for Auburn on the 22-yard line. Instead it's first-and-10 for them on about the 37-yard line. But we cause a turnover the very first play of the game. We had a four-and-out and then we come in and have that one ugly play.

Frost with his hand on the top of the helmet and the ball already on the ground

“We come out the next series and have some good plays, we have another penalty, kept a drive alive,” he added. “We let the quarterback scramble out on the two third-and-longs, had great coverage, just get out of pass-rush lanes. There are some things that can be fixed. It's not getting beat, it's not things from a fundamental standpoint. I think we're playing really well but it's just one or two guys that make a mistake here or there that are costing us some trashy plays we ought to clean up.”

Productive Linebackers

Combining for 16 tackles, with 10 coming from Cassanova McKinzy and six from Kris Frost, Auburn had one of its best linebacker days in several years on Saturday. It was the third double-digit tackle game for McKinzy in the last seven games, something that shows his productivity is on the rise. Johnson said the goal is now consistency for the pair as well as the players behind them such as Anthony Swain and Tre Williams.

“They made a lot of plays and had a lot of production,” Johnson said of his starting duo.” I was a little disappointed in a couple of their missed assignments. We had a couple of blitzes they didn’t execute correctly, but they made a lot of tackles. As a pair I think it was probably one of their better games. Between them they had about 15 tackles and were in on about seven or eight more. We didn’t use them quite as much blitzing off the edge as we do. Inside they were okay. We didn’t get to the quarterback, but created some pressure up in there. I was pleased with their play overall.

“Swain gives us a lot of experience,” he added. “He missed spring ball, but he's probably the most experienced guy I've got behind them. Tre made some mistakes the other night. He just wasn't himself. I think he's really going to be a fine player. He had a little better first game than he did a second game. I hope he's not getting that "overloaded freshman-itis," but I think he's going to be a really good player. I think he's going to be fine. He just made a couple of key mistakes, and we had to pull him out the other night.”

Looking Ahead

With the week off the Tigers will practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to get a head start on the Kansas State Wildcats before taking Friday and Saturday off. With a short week to get prepared for the Thursday night game in Manhattan, Johnson said the early look is big for his team as they Tigers prepare for a different type of offense from the Big 12 team.

“We've had two ball games and (the next game) is a Thursday night kick off and a very unorthodox offense, and I kind of like how it sets up,” Johnson said. “We've got a few extra days to try to look at what they do, because it is very different in some aspects. And then we'll have a couple, three extra days for the next opponent. So it's an open date, but it's really kind of like two extended weeks.

“If we have an open Saturday and didn't play until the following Saturday, I've never really liked that this early in the season. But you deal with all of them. There's a benefit to all of it. You have a chance to get some young guys more work, and if it happens in the late part of the year, you have time to give some kids some rest. So you just have to use it to the best advantage you can. But I like the way this one's falling being a Thursday game."

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