Defense Showing Improvement In Year Two

Auburn's defense is showing improvement in the second year under Ellis Johnson and Thursday night's performance was a prime example of that.

Auburn, Ala.--While the offense continues to get much of the talk for the Auburn Tigers early in the 2014 season, quietly Ellis Johnson's defense has continuously improved since the first half of the Arkansas game. Allowing just 86 yards rushing per game, the Tigers have been lights out in that department the last 10 quarters.

How dominant has Auburn been?

Since allowing 151 yards to the Razorbacks in the first 30 minutes, Auburn has given up a total of just 107 rushing yards in the last 10 quarters. Since allowing 21 points in that first half, the Tigers have given up just 27 more points. All good numbers for Johnson, but he said he’s not ready to call his guys a finished product.

“We're kind of an opposite of what we were last year,” Johnson said. “Last year we struggled with the run, controlling the box. At times, didn't hold point well, got gapped out, and then on third down we could get to the quarterback. We had great edge guys.

"This year we have played really good against the run, especially inside," the coach noted. "I think our front guys have really played disciplined. They have been good, and they are talented guys, they should, but we haven't been able to find that pass rush. It has been kind of the opposite, but to know that we're a lot more solid against the run is good.

“Our linebackers have been playing more consistent than they did last year, fitting the run, it's been a lot better,” he added. “We're going to see some teams down the road who can run it better, and we know that, but hopefully we are improving in that area and what we've accomplished the last couple of games is evidence that we are getting better in that area."

Those areas showed up against Kansas State as the Tigers shut down the running game of the Wildcats and in particular quarterback Jake Waters. Allowing just 40 yards on 30 carries to a team that builds its offense around controlling the line of scrimmage, Auburn had a strong night on defense, but Johnson said it could have been much better.

“What I'm saying is, fundamentally, technique, maybe alignment, a linebacker may be lined up a little bit further over,” Johnson said. “Did we adjust exactly right to all formations? Sometimes we can still improve like any college football team this time of year. We're steadily making progress. We've got some young players in some key roles.

“We're not a real experienced defense, but at least they've been in this system another year so it's starting to help us in that respect. But, they are improving not only by the physicality, they are improving on their assignments, their alignments, technique, their stances, just little things that make a football player better. We still need to improve in a lot of those areas.”

Still looking for more production from the pass rush is the main goal for the Tigers as they get ready to face Louisiana Tech this weekend at home. Coming off a strong game on the road is a confidence boost for a defense that is currently ranked fourth in the SEC for total defense, third in rushing defense and fifth in scoring defense. Johnson said the with the challenge that Kansas State presented on offense he is proud of the win and the way his guys competed.

“They were a challenge,” Johnson said. “Arkansas obviously knows how to run the football. Our problems early in that game is we had a young player lining up wrong and fitting the run wrong. I thought once we got that adjusted we played physical against a very physical team. San Jose was a different style.

"We had to adjust to that, but I thought Kansas State was, overall, the most complete team and it was a tough environment to go over there and have to play. It'd be hard to say it was definitely the best game, but I think we played on a level we had to against a really good opponent.”

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