Photo by Jason Caldwell

Monday Morning QB Column: Gus Malzahn Is Still Searching For A Defensive Coordinator As The Tigers Prepare For Paxton Lynch And Memphis

Auburn is still searching for a defensive coordinator, but could a name be moving to the forefront as the Tigers get ready to face a powerful Memphis offense?

Nothing Yet

A search that Gus Malzahn said he hoping to get finished with quickly has turned into what is approaching a month-long look for a new defensive coordinator. Early on it looked like Charles Kelly (FSU defensive coordinator) was the guy Malzahn was targeting before Tom Allen’s (South Florida defensive coordinator) name jumped to the forefront. Other names such as Penn State's Bob Shoop, Mississippi State's Manny Diaz and former Auburn and current Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof have been talked about as potential candidates as well, but on Sunday all Malzahn would say is that a new coordinator should be hired “in the near future.”

Whether it's one of the names already mentioned or someone else who may surface, the need to get someone in soon is very important because the Tigers need to hit the ground running in recruiting as quickly as possible following the new year. With still a huge need at defensive tackle and linebacker, Auburn has holes to fill in the 2016 signee class just over a month away from signing day. Getting the face of the defense onboard is important. With prospects building relationships through phone calls and getting visits set up, every day that Auburn goes without a defensive coordinator this time of year is another day a potential recruit is building a bond with somebody else.


Lunch With Lynch

Auburn’s challenge in Wednesday’s Birmingham Bowl game against Memphis starts and ends with talented quarterback Paxton Lynch. Likely the top quarterback Auburn will face this season and probably in the last two years, Lynch has thrown for 305 yards per game with 28 touchdowns while completing 69 percent of his passes.

The most impressive thing about Lynch is that he does his damage with a wide variety of receivers. Most quarterbacks have one or two guys they lean on throughout a season, but for Lynch it’s a number of different guys. Nine different wide receivers have caught passes for Memphis this year and 12 different players have caught touchdowns. That’s more than Auburn’s passing touchdown total (10) for the year.

Just twice this season has Lynch been held under 200 yards passing. The first came in the season opener when Memphis built a 42-0 halftime lead against Missouri State and the second came in a loss to Temple when the Owls held him to just 156 yards on 25-34 passing. Other than that it has been mostly feasting for Lynch, which puts a lot of pressure on an Auburn defense that has given up its share of passing yardage this season.

Seven times this season Auburn’s opponents have thrown for at least 220 yards with five of those going for 270 yards or more, but the positive is that this defense has allowed just 13 passing touchdowns with 13 interceptions. That will once again be the key for this Auburn defense because Lynch is going to get his yards. It’s up to Auburn to limit the big-play damage and continue to play strong in the red zone. Do that and Auburn has a great shot to walk out of this game a winner. If Lynch and the Memphis offense turns this game into a shootout it could be a long day for the Tigers.


The Prince Is Back

It was a great sign to see massive defensive lineman Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. back on the practice field for Auburn on Sunday. A tremendous athlete who needs every rep he can get to make up for the time lost this season while dealing with his recovery from a broken leg, Prince Tega is a player that could be the biggest of wildcards for Auburn’s defense in 2016 and beyond.

There is no question that he’s probably the most impressive combination of size and speed for an Auburn defensive lineman since Nick Fairley in 2010, but what remains to be seen is how well he can turn that into productive play on the field. It took Fairley two years of junior college and a third year at Auburn before he was finally able to realize his potential as a defensive lineman.

Auburn needs Prince Tega’s development to come much quicker than that. The type of player who could change a defense, he’s back and working and that’s a huge first step for him and the Auburn defense heading into spring practice.

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