Monday Morning QB Column: Where's The D?

Looking back at Auburn's defensive struggles, final four, basketball and more.

Getting Downright Defensive

It’s hard to imagine a worse stretch for a defense on a good football team than the one the Tigers are going through right now. In the last four games Auburn has allowed 145 total points and while all of those aren’t on the defense they do count in the stats. That includes four consecutive games giving up at least 30 points, a streak unmatched in Auburn history for any team.

The funny thing is that the team closest to matching that was the 2010 National Championship team that gave up 34 to Kentucky, 43 to Arkansas, 17 to LSU and 31 to Ole Miss consecutively in 2010. The next season Auburn allowed 38 to Utah State, 34 to Mississippi State and 38 to Clemson to start the year.

With veteran Ellis Johnson in his second year with the Tigers those days looked to be long gone early in the 2014 season as the team allowed a total of just 68 points in the first five games with 21 of those coming in the opening half against Arkansas. You can point to several reasons why things changed, but there is no doubt that the loss of Jermaine Whitehead was a blow to a defensive secondary that needed his leadership at the safety position.

Missing four games because of his suspension and playing just special teams in wins over South Carolina and Ole Miss, Whitehead’s void left Josh Holsey as the most experienced safety for the Tigers, a player who missed half of the 2013 season and began this year as a cornerback. Trying to provide the checks for the defense while also carrying out your assignment is tough enough, but for an inexperienced player it leads to second-guessing yourself and ultimately mistakes. That is something that has plagued Auburn’s defense the last month and needs to change if the Tigers hope to finish the season on a positive note.

Sack It Up

One reason Auburn’s secondary continues to struggle is the lack of pressure coming from the front four, causing the Tigers to be forced to blitz far too often. Consider these numbers. Auburn’s defensive linemen have combined for just nine and a half sacks this season. That is less than six individuals have this season in college football. Auburn’s team total of 17 is just ahead of the 16 1/2 that Washington’s Hau’O li Kikana has by himself.

At this point I’m not sure there is anything else the Tigers can do other than get someone to step up and take over. Davonte Lambert, Angelo Blackson and Montravius Adams look like the safest bets to break out and have a big game rushing the passer and this weekend would be a great time for that to happen. Facing a Georgia offense that will pound the football on the ground over and over again before hitting opponents with the play-action pass over the top, if Auburn’s defensive line can’t push the pocket and force Hutson Mason out of his comfort zone then the Tigers may have to score a lot of points once again to get a road win.

My Top Four

The top two remain the same for me this week with Mississippi State and Florida State holding steady at one and two. At number three I like Oregon at the moment because of Marcus Mariota and a running game that is beginning to round into form. The biggest question for the Ducks is if senior center Hroniss Grasu is out. That would be a huge blow for a team that depends on the center to make calls and checks at the line. At number four I have Alabama at the moment although I could easily make a case for TCU, Baylor and even Arizona State. TCU’s dismantling of Kansas State shocked me and made me step up and take notice on Saturday. I’m still not sold they are a dominant football team. The team that could get ripped off is Baylor. The Bears have a win over TCU and could finish with the same record. I am not sure how you could rank the Horned Frogs ahead of Baylor if both finish the season 11-1. Arizona State’s blitzing defense could be a problem for Oregon down the road and with an offense that can score with anyone the Sun Devils could be a team to watch.

Hoop Dreams

With a dress rehearsal now under their belts the Auburn Tigers will get a chance to show what they’ve got this Friday night as part of a doubleheader at Auburn Arena. First Coach Flo’s women’s team will have the chance to get the season off on the right foot against the Troy Trojans at 6 p.m. in a game televised by the SEC Network. Finishing last season 19-15 with a third round WNIT loss, the Tigers will need some help from newcomers on the perimeter and also need veterans Hasina Muhammad and Tra’Cee Tanner to play well and stay healthy.

On the men’s side it’s all about the play of the interior for Coach Bruce Pearl’s first Auburn team. While the guard play should be good enough to match up with much of the opposition this season because of experienced players such as K.T. Harrell and transfer Antoine Mason, the Tigers must get quality play out of Matthew Atewe and newcomer Cinmeon Bowers as well as Jordon Granger and true freshman Jack Purchase. Lacking ideal size in the post, it’s going to be a war of attrition for the Tigers this season. All hands must be on deck for the Tigers to be able to compete in the paint in 2014-15.

Even though they are lacking in size I expect this Auburn team to be a fun one to watch with Pearl and his group of quality assistants getting the most out of the guys they have to work with in this transition season. If things fall into place this season the Tigers could make some noise in the SEC, but there is long and winding road ahead with the first step coming against Milwaukee at 9 p.m. on Friday.

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