AU Notebook: Defense, Duke & QB Improvement

Looking at Auburn's defensive struggles, updating Duke Williams' status, Nick Marshall's and more notes are featured on the Auburn Tigers as they head into rivalry week with a road trip to Georgia on Saturday.

Auburn, Ala.--The questions only grow louder for the Auburn Tigers on defense following another less than impressive display in the loss to Texas A&M on Saturday. Giving up 34 points to an offense that came in struggling with a true freshman quarterback at the helm, the Tigers have hit the skids in the last three games on that side of the ball.

Auburn, Ala.--You could say the string dates back four games when you count the loss at Mississippi State, but turnovers gave the Bulldogs several short fields that afternoon that led directly to 21 points. Still, the defense had the opportunity to hold them out of the end zone and didn’t do it.

Unfortunately for the Tigers that has been a big problem the last month and it showed up again on Saturday. Allowing 28 quick points to the Aggies as part of 34 allowed by the defense on the day, with the other seven coming on special teams, the Tigers are allowing points at a record pace with no end in sight this week against the Georgia Bulldogs.

Giving up more than 30 points in four consecutive games (38, 35, 31, 41) for the first time in school history, Auburn’s defense is trying to find an answer at the moment, Coach Ellis Johnson said on Sunday night. Whether it’s an missed alignment, missed tackle or blown coverage, he noted that right now they are all coming at the worst possible time for his defense.

“The guys are playing with great effort,” Johnson said. “I know it’s important to them. They are trying hard, they are practicing hard. We are just making some mistakes sometimes that are uncharacteristic. We need to find an answer to that. We need to coach better, play a little harder, coach smarter, something. We have got to eliminate those six or eight plays a game where we just don’t make them earn it.”

The Marshall Plan

Quarterback Nick Marshall continues to play at a very high level for the Tigers and has improved significantly throwing the football. Against Texas A&M he came back from a slow start to complete 15-21 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown in the loss. That makes his numbers 42-57 (73.7 percent) during the last three games for 612 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.

Watching the passing game come together with the running game rolling at the moment is the good news for Auburn's offense. While the turnovers have been a problem in the two losses for the Tigers, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said it’s obvious the improvements Marshall has made throwing the football.

“I think you can see that our efficiency is going up, our completion percentage is going up,” the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach said. “We're making plays down the field. We're getting there. Our guys are making strides, and our guys are starting to show some signs of what we expected, but we still got some room to improve, and there's still some things out there that we missed. I thought we had good balance at the end. The main problem we had is that we turned the ball over.”

Duke Williams Update

Auburn junior wide receiver Duke Williams left Saturday’s game with a leg injury after being hit low by a Texas A&M defender and never returned. Lashlee said they are still unsure of the extent of Williams’ injury, but he said they are hopeful he will return this season. If he doesn’t get back this week Lashlee pointed out it won’t change how the Tigers approach the game.

“It will probably depend on what we see when we are game planning and what we see with our opponent,” he said. “At the same time we didn’t have him for three quarters of the game last night and we were still able to be effective running and throwing the ball. It’s a big loss, but it’s like every other position, somebody has to step up. I thought last night that Ricardo (Louis) stepped up and made some plays for us. I thought Melvin Ray stepped up. C.J. (Uzomah) stepped up. That’s just what good teams have to do. Guys have to step up and fill those voids.”

Secondary Rotation

As the Tigers continue to search for the right answers in the secondary it meant more playing time for some old and new faces against Texas A&M. With senior Jonathon Mincy dealing with back spasms, sophomore T.J. Davis got some valuable snaps and played well for the Tigers. Also back on the field was senior Jermaine Whitehead. Working his way back onto the defense after spending much of his time on special teams the last few weeks, Whitehead got an interception and did some good things, Johnson said.

“He’s a little rusty. He hadn’t been in the game plan for what, three or four weeks, but we got him back and we definitely wanted to get an opportunity to play him and get him back in the lineup.

"Really the rotation back there was more of just trying to get some guys a blow. A lot of them are on special teams, too, and just give them a break at the right times. Mincy had a back spasm, small spasm, we had to pull him off a little while. T.J. (Davis) played pretty good when he came in, but most of the rotation was just trying to get a rest, give somebody a break.”

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