Defense Shoulders Share Of Blame In Defeat

Auburn added another disappointing chapter to the 2003 seaosn Saturday in Athens, Ga.

Athens, Ga.--Just glancing at the final numbers from Saturday's 26-7 Georgia victory over Auburn at Sanford Stadium you would get the distinct impression that the Tiger offense had been stymied yet again costing the team a chance at a victory. While the offense certainly didn't help itself any with just two first downs and 54 yards of total offense in the first half, Auburn's defense failed to help their teammates out and Coach Gene Chizik said that is something he's not proud of coaching.

On the field for 41 plays as compared to just 24 for the offense, the defense failed to live up to its end of the bargain against the Bulldogs no matter how inept the offensive performance was.

"We stayed on the field too long because of us," Chizik said. "That's why we stayed on the field. We stayed on the field because of ourselves. That's attributed to us and no other reason. If you can't get anybody off the field on third down then you're going to stay out there all day. That's what happened. For two weeks in a row we weren't very good on third downs and that's what happens."

One player who did his job was senior defensive tackle Demarco McNeil. Playing with a dislocated finger suffered early in the first half, McNeil unofficially had seven tackles, five for losses, and two sacks. While the game might have been one of his better individual performances as a Tiger, the competitor in McNeil had him feeling down following the loss.

"It's pretty tough, but the defense isn't creating turnovers like we would normally do," McNeil said. "We haven't created a turnover in the last two games and I think that's one of the reasons why we're coming down with a loss. We're not creating turnovers and getting our offense great field position to shift the momentum.

Demarco McNeil (92) sacks David Greene as Reggie Torbor (82) comes in to help if needed.

"We weren't able to get off the field, especially early on," McNeil added. "Even though we held them to six points it kept our offense off the field and they didn't run as many plays as they wanted to in the first half. Things just didn't go our way tonight."

Many of the third down conversions came on plays of longer than five yards, something that has become an epidemic for this Tiger defense. While the defense was able to come up with three sacks on Georgia quarterback David Greene, inconsistent pressure and a well-called game by Coach Mark Richt kept the Auburn defense off balance and Greene was able to take advantage of the Tigers in the middle of a secondary that didn't play well for much of the night despite giving up just 208 yards passing on 25 attempts.

"They were very average," Chizik said of the secondary. "We gave up too many third downs. We were in a position to make plays on balls and didn't make them. They ran a reverse pass and we've got two guys going up for the ball and can't come down with it. We get them in third down and they throw the same route they threw on a previous third down. We've got a guy sitting all over it and we can't make the play on it."

Despite not being able to keep Georgia's offense from moving the ball and eating away the clock, Auburn's defense did keep the Tigers in the game for much of the day. That was until Georgia's defense came up with the play of the day. Trailing just 19-0, but moving the ball for the second time inside Georgia's 20-yard line, Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell threw a pass intended for Courtney Taylor in the end zone. The only problem was the ball got tipped at the line of scrimmage and Bulldog linebacker Odell Thurman caught it in mid-air and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown just minutes into the fourth quarter. That play effectively put a cap on Georgia's victory and took the wind out of Auburn's sails for good.

"You're in it and in it and in it and all of the sudden they make a big play," senior defensive end Reggie Torbor said of the interception return for a touchdown. "What's the chances of them taking the ball back 99 yards? Week in and week out people are able to make plays and we aren't. That's the difference right now. It's just not going our way."

The Tigers will now try to recover once again from an embarrassing defeat and regroup for the biggest game of the season against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Sitting at just 6-5 on the season, a far cry from where this team expected to be heading into the finale, McNeil said all his Tigers can do is try to close out the season on a positive note with a victory next Saturday.

"It's just one of those things," McNeil said. "We're playing hard--things just aren't going our way right now. The good thing about football and life is that we're going to go to sleep, the sun will shine tomorrow and we've got one more game against Alabama. We'll just try to move on from this."

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