Marshall: AU Quietly Building Strong Defense

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at Auburn's defense and around the SEC in his latest installment.

Like a lot of things about Auburn's 2005 football team, it has gone almost unnoticed on a national level. But David Gibbs, in his first season as coordinator, has quietly built a dominating defense.

How dominating?

The first-team defense has given up more than one touchdown in a game just twice – in a season-opening 23-14 loss to Georgia Tech and in a 34-17 victory at Arkansas.

Before Saturday's 27-3 rout of Ole Miss, Auburn was second in the Southeastern Conference and fourth nationally in scoring defense (12.0 ppg) and third in the SEC and eighth nationally in total defense.

Mississippi State, South Carolina, LSU and Ole Miss scored fewer points against Auburn than against any other opponent.

The Tigers have done it the way every coach worth his whistle preaches doing it. Players have happily given up their individual identities for the team.

Nose guard Tommy Jackson made All-SEC last season and is has been even better this season, but he might not make All-SEC again. Same goes for middle linebacker Travis Williams.

Defensive ends Stanley McClover and Quentin Groves have willingly concentrated on improving their run-stopping skills instead of chasing quarterbacks on every snap.

Marquies Gunn was the forgotten defensive end as McClover and Groves got the preseason hype, but today he is probably the best one.

No fewer than eight players have made significant contributions in the secondary.

Auburn doesn't have a player in the SEC's Top 20 in total tackles, and it doesn't matter. Gibbs would be the first to say that improvement is still needed. The Tigers got ample pressure on Ole Miss quarterbacks last Saturday, but they would like to get more. Perhaps the biggest need is for the defense to force more turnovers, particularly interceptions.

All in all, the Tigers have been as good or maybe even better defensively than they were in last season's run to a 13-0 record.

They will certainly be good enough to handle Kentucky on the road next Saturday. Will they be good enough to meet the challenges at the end of the season on the road against Georgia and at home against Alabama? There's no way to answer that question today.

But Gibbs' defense certainly will give them a chance.

Thoughts and impressions from Week 9 of SEC football:

Auburn's victory over Ole Miss was certainly impressive. The Rebels are stout on defense and came to town believing they could pull off an upset. Auburn was having none of it.

Once players shook off a bumpy start – perhaps the remnant of a devastating 20-17 overtime loss at LSU a week earlier – Auburn dominated the game on both sides of the ball.

Getting no points out of drives of 81 and 94 yards was irritating to offensive coordinator Al Borges and his players, but Ole Miss and its all-senior defensive front deserves some credit for that. The unanimous opinion in the Auburn locker room was that Ole Miss' defensive line was better than the more-publicized one the Tigers saw a week earlier at LSU...

It was neat that kicker John Vaughn got such a warm reception from fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium. After missing five field goals at LSU last Saturday, Vaughn faced the music and went to work on finding out what was wrong. The cheer for his first field goal against Ole Miss was as loud as for a touchdown...

I don't know that I have ever seen a more convoluted offense than Tennessee's. The Vols certainly have talent, but they are a mess. The result Saturday night was a 16-15 loss to Steve Spurrier and South Carolina that had to be bitter medicine for coach Phillip Fulmer, It was the Vols' third consecutive loss, and next Saturday they go to Notre Dame.

Phillip Fulmer

The Vols are 3-4 overall and 2-4 in the SEC, needing three wins in their last four games just to qualify for a bowl. After Notre Dame, they play Memphis in Knoxville, Vanderbilt in Knoxville and Kentucky in Lexington. Even those teams will believe they can win, and maybe they can. What a collapse for a team ranked No. 3 nationally in the preseason and favored to win the SEC championship...

Speaking of Spurrier and South Carolina, if other SEC coaches, particularly in the East Division, aren't taking notice, they should. Spurrier has no more than a handful of top-of-the-line SEC players, but he has the Gamecocks on the verge of a bowl bid. He has a win at Tennessee and a near-miss at Georgia.

What's it going to be like when he has more players?...

No. 2 Texas must have been sleep-walking when it fell behind a really awful Oklahoma State team 28-9 in the first half Saturday night...

Don't be surprised if Alabama struggles at least for a while on the road at Mississippi State next Saturday. The Bulldogs aren't very good – in fact they are bad – but they do play decent defense and the Tide doesn't have much offense...

With D.J. Shockley sidelined with a knee injury, Georgia couldn't generate enough offense to give itself a fighting chance in a 14-10 loss to Georgia. The Bulldogs have an open date next Saturday and Shockley says he'll be ready for Auburn. Whether he actually will be or if he will be full-speed is another question.

Auburn's game at Georgia on Nov. 12 will be a big one. If Georgia wins, it will clinch the SEC East championship. If Auburn wins, it will stay strongly in the hunt in the West...

I wonder why the SEC schedules Auburn-LSU and Alabama-Tennessee on the same day and Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-LSU on the same day. Those are going to be very significant games almost every season. Wouldn't it make sense to play them on different Saturdays?...

Are offenses bad this season in the SEC or are defenses dominant? I don't know how the statistics compare to other seasons, but I can't remember less scoring in the big games. The national take will be that the offenses are not as strong as usual, and maybe that's true. We really won't know until we see what happens in bowl games...

Until next time...

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