Mixed Reviews: Coaches See Room to Improve

The Auburn Tigers are turning their attention to game four as they look to correct mistakes from last week's too close for comfort victory at Kansas State.

Josh Holsey (above) started at safety for the first time since last season in Auburn's victory at Kansas State.

Auburn, Ala.--As the Auburn football team returned to practice on Sunday evening the offensive coordinator made it clear he didn’t like the performance in game three and the defensive coordinator said his group is still a work in progress, too.

Commenting on the 20-14 victory at Kansas State, Rhett Lashlee said after studying video of the game it was “frustrating” from his point of view.

“Overall I wasn’t very pleased with anything,” Lashlee said. “I did not think we played well. Give them a lot of credit. They had a lot to do with it. They played a very solid, disciplined game plan--very well coached, very tough. They played hard just like we thought. They did everything we thought and more.

“It is a great environment they have there,” Auburn’s offensive coordinator added. “That was a really good football team so it was a great test for us, but we didn’t play Auburn football at any position.

“We had way too many--let’s just say we had a lot of poorly executed plays,” Lashlee said. “We didn’t have many plays where all 11 guys did what they are supposed to do in the run game, the pass game, pass protection. You name it, it was not our best effort.

“Fortunately for us, it was not our best effort in a game our defense played great and we were able to find a way to win, but overall I was not pleased,” Lashlee said.

“The things I was pleased with, the one thing I thought we did really well, when we needed to respond we did. I thought we learned probably more about our team than if we had gone in there and played great and won going away.

“We had played poorly the whole first half and they finally scored to make it 7-3 and we go straight down the field and scored before the half,” Lashlee pointed out. “We responded, we had a good answer.

“I think we were 2-7 in the first half on third down and we were about 8-11 in the second half,” he said. “We challenged them at halftime--we have got to be better on third down and we were. We had about a 15-play scoring drive in the second half and then that last drive when we needed to keep the ball away from them we did.”

Coordinator Ellis Johnson, whose group is now ranked No. 23 nationally in total defense, liked what he saw on video more than Lashlee did. “It was good,” Johnson said. “There were some things on there we have got to clean up. We didn’t play a real clean game from an assignment standpoint. A lot of times it wasn’t a busted assignment, maybe we wouldn’t play as well as we could play with an alignment here or there.

“One time we had four guys lined up in the secondary that did not play defense at Auburn last year,” Johnson pointed out. “That is a tough job against a good football team in a tough environment.

“There were some mistakes with alignments and things that can be better, but I thought we really competed and had some production,” the coach added.

Johnson said an area of concern is Auburn’s inability to get a consistent pass rush from the front four. “We have got to look at who, we have got to look at how and keep trying to give those guys reps and develop the skill set to be able to do it. We have also got to be creative to do some things to get pressure on the quarterback.”

With senior safety Jermaine Whitehead suspended, the Tigers moved Josh Holsey from cornerback to safety and he performed well against Kansas State, according to Johnson, who noted that it is up to Gus Malzahn whether or not Whitehead will be allowed to practice or play. Malzahn has not addressed the issue except to say that Whitehead is suspended.

Jermaine Whitehead

“I thought he did a good, solid job,” Johnson said of Holsey, who has come back from knee surgery that ended his 2013 season prematurely when he was the starting free safety. “It was a tough move for him. It was done during the week and he didn’t have but one-half of a practice and another small. light practice and he did pretty well.

“I thought all of our guys out back played pretty well,” Johnson said of the secondary. “We put a lot of pressure on them. We had to play a lot of man coverage to make sure we loaded the box on the quarterback (Jake Waters) and I thought they really competed well.”

Waters, Kansas State’s leading rusher, finished the game with negative seven rushing yards.

In other news and notes:

*This Saturday’s game will be an early Homecoming for the Tigers, who will kick off at 3 p.m. CDT vs. Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs will arrive at Jordan-Hare Stadium with a 2-2 record after being upset 30-27 on Saturday night by Northwestern State, a FCS opponent that kicked a field goal on the final play to win the game.

Coach Skip Holtz’s Louisiana Tech team opened the season with a 48-16 loss at Oklahoma before bouncing back with road wins at Louisiana-Lafayette (48-20) and North Texas (42-21).

Auburn leads the series 11-0-1.

*Four weeks into the season the Tigers have allowed just five yards in quarterback sacks, the lowest total of any team in the SEC. Auburn’s defense is averaging 2.67 sacks per contest, which ties the Tigers for fifth in the league.

*Auburn is tied with Alabama for the SEC lead at 63.0 percent for third down conversions and the Tigers are 10th in SEC third down conversion defense at 39.5 percent.

*Auburn and South Carolina are the only two SEC teams who have a 100 percent conversion rate for scoring in the red zone. The Tigers are 14-14 with 11 touchdowns and three field goals. South Carolina is also 14-14 with 11 touchdowns and three field goals. The Gamecocks have played four games and has played three times.

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