Auburn, Ala.--We have reached the halfway point of Auburn’s 2014 football schedule and with a record of 5-1 overall and 2-1 in SEC play the Tigers are ranked sixth in the latest Associated Press poll. With an off-week before the Tigers face South Carolina on Oct. 25 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, it’s a good time to look at how Auburn has played so far, starting with the defense.Through six games last season Auburn was allowing 18.8 points per game and 399.2 yards of total offense to the opposition. This year the numbers are 18.3 points given up and 333.7 yards per game, both improvements for Coach Ellis Johnson’s group in year two of the system. When you consider three of the touchdowns allowed last week came on drives of 32 yards or less by Mississippi State, the defense has definitely taken some strides forward, but there are still plenty of things that must improve heading into the second half. We take a look at the position-by-position thoughts on Auburn’s defense through the first half of the season: Defensive Tackles
One of the most steady positions so far this season for the Tigers has been defensive tackle, and that should come as no surprise with a group of veterans and talented sophomore Montravius Adams in the rotation. Leading the group with 22 tackles, one sack, one interception, and five tackles for losses, Adams has become a force in the middle and is definitely the most productive of the group.
The group of seniors Ben Bradley, Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson and Jeffrey Whitaker have all had their moments as well so far this season to allow Rodney Garner the freedom to substitute freely during the game. That should allow them to remain productive during a tough stretch of games to finish the season.
So far junior college transfer Davonte Lambert has been the top player at the position for the Tigers. Earning a starting role just three games into his first season on the Plains, Lambert has a team-high two and a half sacks plus five tackles for losses while compiling 15 total tackles. His play on the edge has been a strong point for a position that has not performed well overall to this point in the season.
Even though sophomore Gimel President has improved his play enough to earn a starting spot opposite Lambert, he has combined with LaDarius Owens, Elijah Daniel and Raashed Kennion for just 24 tackles (12 by President), two tackles for losses and no sacks. That has to change, and change in a big way, if Auburn hopes to slow the offensive attacks still left on the schedule. This could be a week to continue to experiment with pass rushing work by Cassanova McKinzy and even converted safety/linebacker Brandon King in obvious pass rush situations.Linebackers
So far the play has been better in 2014, but there is still plenty of room for improvement for McKinzy and Kris Frost. Second on the team with 34 tackles, McKinzy has a sack and four tackles for losses and has shown he can pack a punch when he gets to the ball carrier. He has to continue to improve his reads in the running game, something he has improved since last season. That is also true of Frost. He is playing much better against the run and is more physical in 2014, but is still prone to take a chance and that gets him out of position.
Frost and McKinzy have been solid so far for the Tigers
Reserves such as Anthony Swain, Justin Garrett, Tre Williams, King and JaViere Mitchell haven’t seen much prime-time action this season, but with Garrett back at the position it could mean some different looks on defense for the Tigers moving forward. The same is true of King, a player who has the versatility to play several different roles as a cover guy, spy, and even a pass rusher.
StarSenior Robenson Therezie has played well in his starting role for the Tigers at the star rover position, but hasn’t been the playmaker the Auburn defense needs him to be through the first six games. With 19 tackles and three and a half tackles for losses, Therezie has done a good job of providing pressure on the quarterback when asked to blitz. Where he hasn’t been as effective is in the secondary with just two passes defended. True freshman Nick Ruffin has been a solid backup at the position and plays a role in Auburn’s nickel and dime defensive packages. He has five tackles and two passes defensed so far this year.
This is probably the most improved position on the defense to this point with Jonathon Mincy playing as well as anybody in the SEC through the first half of the season and Jonathan Jones and Trovon Reed doing a solid job on the other side of the field. Third on the team with 34 tackles, Mincy leads the way with six passes broken up and has also added three and a half tackles for losses.
The interceptions have come from the other two with Jones leading the team with three and Reed tied for second with a pair of picks. Help has come from sophomore T.J. Davis, a big defensive back that brings some size to the plate when called upon by the Tigers. Playing very aggressively, Auburn needs to cut back on the penalties, but that attitude is paying off to the tune of 10 interceptions in just six games for the team.
Even without senior Jermaine Whitehead, who remains suspended indefinitely, Auburn’s safety play has remained solid with Johnathan Ford and Josh Holsey performing well in his absence along with junior college transfer Derrick Moncrief and true freshman Stephen Roberts. Leading the team with 41 tackles, Ford has been one of the most pleasant surprises for the Tigers this season because of his physical tackling style. Also adding a pair of interceptions, Jones looks like a star in the making for the Tigers at the position.
Rudy Ford has been one of the top players on defense for the Tigers.
The key for the rest of the season will be to continue to improve for a group that is the most inexperienced on either side of the ball. Moncrief continues to become more comfortable and his continued emergence will be important with some physical football teams still left on the schedule.
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