Defensive Woes Continue To Plague Tigers

Auburn's defensive struggles continued in the win over Ole Miss.

Auburn, Ala.--For most of the 2014 season Auburn’s defense had shown improvement in year two under Ellis Johnson, but the last three times out that hasn’t been the case. You can definitely lay a good bit of the blame for the 38 points allowed against Mississippi State at the feet of the Auburn offense, but against South Carolina and Ole Miss the defensive problems were abundant for the Tigers.

Allowing just 72 points in the first five games, Auburn has now given up a total of 104 points in the last three games including 31 to Ole Miss on Saturday night. Giving up 341 yards passing to Bo Wallace on 30-42 passing, much of the problem remains in pass coverage and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said communication issues continue to be at the center of the mistakes.

Some of that came with a change at the safety position. With Derrick Moncrief getting the start instead of Josh Holsey it meant a move for Johnathan Ford to the field safety from his boundary spot. Even though Ford responded with a team-high 12 tackles and Moncrief added six, it wasn’t enough to offset the mistakes made on the back end in terms of coverage and tackling.

“Cheese (Auburn safeties coach Charlie Harbison) wanted to give some rotation,” Johnson said. “Josh didn’t play well in the South Carolina game and he rotated Rudy over and put Moncrief in and they all had some mistakes though. The every first touchdown was Moncrief. They threw the little scramble route over there in the flat on a late throw and then later on we got one to the tight end up the seam and that was Holsey again.

“Then we had another one the very first play of the second half the safeties busted a pickup on the reverse. They should have been there on the reverse. It was just a mixture of things. The communication’s got to improve. It’s things we’ve practiced and the players have got to function.”

Even when the players are in the right place sometimes it’s just a bad match-up and that happened on two big plays against the Rebels Saturday night. With the Tigers in a man-blitz with no safety help Ole Miss called a wide receiver screen that led to a touchdown pass to Laquon Treadwell, a play that Johnson said put his team in a bind before the ball was even snapped.

“It wasn’t a great call to be in,” Johnson said. “The last time we played a little more cautious and they threw the ball over Mincy’s head and got a holding call. Then we got down on that big third down and my decision was to bring pressure. We’re in a zero blitz and they throw in quick screen and anybody will tell you what do you not want to be in if you know they’re going to throw the zero blitz, so you put a lot of pressure on those man cover guys.

“We had great effort from inside-out, from the box after they blitzed they turned and ran, had a couple of near misses but we didn’t force it real well but it was a tough, tough assignment for those DBs to be in. It’s one you have to make that call can hope you got the right thing on. But we had not; they’d got the ball out vertically the last third down before so that’s why we wanted to bring pressure right there.”

While the pass defense continues to struggle, the good news is that Auburn’s front seven picked up the pressure on the quarterback against Ole Miss with four total sacks, three of which came from the defensive line. Getting to Wallace was a major point of emphasis and was probably the only bring spot of the night for Johnson’s group. Getting ready to face Texas A&M this weekend and with Georgia and Alabama still on the schedule, improving is the only choice now for the Tigers.

“One positive thing, I thought we got a little bit more pass pressure,” Johnson said. “That improved this week and hopefully that’s a good thing to build on going forward. I would say up until that time that was our biggest issue. That wasn’t as big of a problem this time. We had some breakdowns back there and we’ve got to get them straight.”

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