Photo by Jason Caldwell

Auburn Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp Critical Of His Group's Performance

Will Muschamp made it clear that his team's run defense has been very disappointing five games into the 2015 Auburn football season.

Freshman defensive tackle Jauntavius Johnson may see his first collegiate action vs. Kentucky, according to Will Muschamp.

Auburn, Ala.--Will Muschamp  did not temper his remarks after practice on Wednesday night about the need for his Auburn defense to become a more fundamentally sound group of football players.

With no game this week the defensive coordinator said it has been back to the basics at practice, particularly in defending the run. The Tigers are giving up 209.6 rushing yards per contest, which is last in the SEC.

“Hell, nobody’s got to throw it,” he said about his defense. “I wouldn’t.”

The Auburn coach said the Tigers are struggling on the defensive front so much that they are looking at playing little-used Andrew Williams a redshirt freshman, along with true freshman Jauntavius Johnson  on the defensive line this week. Johnson has yet to play in a game for the Tigers.

“We are certainly going to give Andrew Williams and Jauntavius Johnson some opportunities,” Muschamp said. “We need to. If you continue to do the same things, you’re going to get the same results. We need to give those guys some opportunities. They’ve gotten more reps than they’ve gotten all year in preparation going to Lexington.”

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Andrew Williams (above) is a redshirt freshman who can play both end and tackle.

Commenting on Johnson, Muschamp said, “He has been solid. He is coming off a knee (injury), which he had in high school. When you have a bigger guy that takes a little longer as far as the pounding and all that they’ve got to take on the double-teams and those things are sometimes a little bit more sore coming out of the practices as opposed to some of the skill kids who had those, but I’ve been pleased.”

Asked what the Tigers are focused on in practice, Muschamp said, “As much as anything blow delivery, disengage, get off blocks, playing double teams--stuff we work on all the time, but certainly it has been a point of emphasis not having to schematically get ready for a game, just trying to spend as much time as we can on fundamentals and continue to improve on playing blocks up front in our seven.

“That is something we have been very poor at to this point of the year,” Muschamp said. “I have been very disappointed with our progress as far as that is concerned.

“It is very inconsistent across the board--linebacker, defensive line, even on the perimeter in the Mississippi State game the first drive we were not as firm on the edges as we needed to be.”

The coach added the Tigers need to be “much, much improved” at the basics of playing defense as they prepare for next week’s game vs. Kentucky. “We haven’t made as much progress as we need to,”?he said. “We certainly spent a lot of time on that and we will continue to. You need to address the things that you are not doing well and we are just not playing very good in the front seven at this time.”

In other news and notes:

*The Tigers will practice on Thursday and the players will have two days off before returning to the field on Sunday to resume preparations for next week’s Thursday game at Kentucky. Kickoff is shortly after 6 p.m. CDT for that contest, which will be televised by ESPN.

*Gus Malzahn said that with Duke Williams dismissed from the team the coaches want more than one player to fill his shoes. “We are asking all of our guys to step up,” the head coach said. “We are going to do it by committee. We have got some talented young men and we have some young guys who haven’t got a lot of playing time we think will be very good receivers.

“This is a good week for us to let those guys see what they can do in practice,” said Malzahn, who added the off-week couldn’t have come at a better time.

*Malzahn described redshirt sophomore Peyton Barber as the team’s “workhorse” for the running game. “We are very happy with Peyton. He is a great kid, a hard worker. He is the type of kid you want to see good things happen to.”

Barber, who is averaging 111.6 rushing yards per game, is fifth in the SEC in that category trailing LSU’s Leonard Fournette (216.0), Georgia’s Nick Chubb (149.0), Alex Collins (131.2) of Arkansas and Alabama’s Derrick Henry (114.0). 

Jason Caldwell

Peyton Barber (above) goes over the pile vs. San Jose State. He scored five touchdowns vs. the Spartans.

*Barber is close to Cameron Artis-Payne’s rushing pace for the 2014 season when the former Tiger led the SEC in rushing. After five games last year Artis-Payne, a rookie with the Carolina Panthers, had rushed for 594 yards on 110 carries. Barber has 558 yards on 105 carries.

*Muschamp said that freshman defensive end Byron Cowart is making progress despite being credited with being in on just four tackles this season. 

“He is contributing,” the coach said. “He is playing 20-something snaps a game, some more than others, but I have been very pleased with where he is and what he is doing. He made a nice penetration the other day, a big down for us right there to get them in a negative down and distance, forced a punt a play later.”

*Kevin Phillips is averaging 44.3 yards per punt, which ranks fourth in the SEC. Nine of the walk-on’s 18 punts have forced opponents to start inside their own 20-yard line. The Tigers are fourth in the league for net punting at 40.6 yards.

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