Jason Caldwell's Monday Morning QB Column: Win Over LSU Important For The Auburn Football Tigers

Auburn's win over LSU was big for a number of reasons for Gus Malzahn's team.

Much Needed Win

It wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but just getting a win against a quality opponent like LSU is very important for the Auburn Tigers as they head into the second month of the season beginning with this week's home game vs. Louisiana-Monroe. You could see that on the faces of the players and coaches after the LSU game and it carried into Sunday.

While the defense again did its job, playing physical football up front with Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson both wreaking havoc, the offense did its share of good things as well even though it failed to get into the end zone.

Maybe one of the most important things that happened on Saturday night might go unnoticed by many, but running backs Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway combined for 39 carries in the game for 154 yards. That’s not a particularly impressive number, however, but it was important than none of their carries went for negative yardage.

Whether it was the offensive line improvement or the decisiveness of the backs that made a big change is anybody’s guess, but the difference in the offensive plan with Rhett Lashlee calling the plays was obvious with just the flow of the offense. Even though in the end it didn’t mean a lot of points on Saturday night, it was a winning first step for the offensive change and with a chance to work out more kinks on Saturday this Auburn team has a chance to make noise if it can get over the hump offensively.


Third Down Defense A Key

If you ask most casual football fans they will say that points allowed and total yards allowed are two vital statistics to measure success on defense, but when you delve a little deeper you’ll find out that most of the time having a good third down defense is really important to the overall success of the team.

Getting off the field on third down has been a problem for Auburn defenses dating back almost a decade. For instance, last year the Tigers allowed opponents to convert on third downs 45 percent of the time. In 2014 that number was 36 percent while the year before Auburn allowed 33 percent on third downs.

In fact you have to go all the way back to 2008 to find a defense on the Plains that meets the requirements most defensive coordinators are looking for with the stat. That season Auburn allowed a 29 percent conversion rate and 18 points per game in Tommy Tuberville’s final season with the Tigers.

This season the Auburn defense is back to that form so far under coordinator Kevin Steele. Holding the opposition to just a 28 percent success rate and 18.8 points per game, Steele said the key for them has been playing good football on third downs.

“Our goal is 30 percent and that is pretty standard," he notes. "That’s not something I came up with. That’s something that the Green Bay Packers used, Dom (Capers) used. I think Coach (Bill) Belichick, that was their goal 70 percent. It has just kind of been passed down the line. It has been 70 percent every place I have been. I think 7 out of 10 is pretty efficient.”

That has particularly helped out the Tigers in the red zone. Playing well on third down has helped limit the opposition to six touchdowns in 17 red zone trips this year. Steele said that has been great to see, but now the goal is to keep opponents from getting in field goal range so often.


Turning The Page

One of the things Steele has been preaching since the start of the season has been that it is important to not worry about the opponent and focus on Auburn. That has never been more true than this week for the Tigers with Louisiana-Monroe coming to town.

While there’s no question that this Auburn team has shown it can’t afford to take anyone lightly, especially on offense, this is a week to focus on getting better and that means executing at a high level in all three phases.

Building confidence this coming Saturday is a must for the Tigers with a chance to put together a winning streak after the 2-2 start. With a defense and special teams that should keep this team in most games, Auburn’s ability to move the ball and put it in the end zone could give them a shot to turn things around in a big way this season.

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