On February 3, 2006, Will Muschamp became Auburn's fourth defensive coordinator under Tommy Tuberville, bringing high expectations to the defensive side of the football.
Former Auburn defensive coordinator David Gibbs was only on the Plains for one season and left with many question marks about his overall performance. Auburn has long been known for its physical play on defense, especially during the late eighties under coordinator Wayne Hall and head coach Pat Dye. Within recent memory, coordinator Gene Chizik did an excellent job in re-establishing Auburn as one of the top defenses in the country prior to taking a similar position at the University of Texas.
Muschamp arrives at Auburn with plenty of experience coaching in the Southeastern Conference, working under the likes of Bill Oliver and Nick Saban. He will bring his "attack" styled defense to Auburn in hopes of giving the team a slight facelift in terms of schemes and making sure the players are more fundamentally sound in technique.
With Tommy Tuberville's background in defense, Auburn will continue to operate out of the traditional "4-3," but Muschamp's approach will be similar to Al Borges on offense. Muschamp's goal is to confuse the opponent, especially the quarterback, so that the quarterback doesn't know the point of attack until the ball is snapped.
Arguably, the best three-year run in Auburn football was 1987-1989 when Auburn accumulated a 29-5-2 record, winning three consecutive Southeastern Conference titles. The heart of those three teams was one of the best defenses in the modern era of college football. During the championship run, Auburn's defense under Hall surrendered only 32 touchdowns in 33 regular season games. In comparison, the top three scoring defensive teams from 2005 were Alabama, Virginia Tech and LSU. Combined, the top three scoring defenses from the 2005 season allowed 1.45 touchdowns per game.
Auburn's defense, from 1987 through 1989, gave up 0.96 touchdowns per game. Even more impressive is the fact the 1986 Auburn defense gave up only 10 touchdowns during the regular season, giving Auburn a four-year run of 32 touchdowns allowed in 44 regular season games.
Including bowl games, Auburn gave up 9.9 points per game from 1986-1989, which covered a span of 48 games. In comparison, the top scoring defenses from the SEC over the past four seasons (Georgia, LSU, Auburn and Alabama ), gave up a combined 12.1 points per game from 2002-2004. Hall's defenses during the late eighties were obviously difficult to score upon. From 1986-1989, Auburn held 31 of its 48 opponents to 10 points or less. Only the Florida State Seminoles (1987) scored more than 20 points against the Auburn defense in four years.
From 2002 through 2004, Louisiana State was one of the top defenses in the country with Will Muschamp calling the shots. The young defensive coordinator under Saban believed in a heavy dose of the blitz. Rather than read and react, the LSU Tigers schemed to attack the opposing offenses, forcing the opponent to adjust their offense to the constant pressure applied by the LSU defense.
During Muschamp's three-year run as defensive coordinator from 2002-2004, the Bengal Tiger defense forced 81 turnovers and sacked the opposing quarterback 108 times. It was a pro-styled defense operated by great athletes which resulted in a National Championship season during the 2003 campaign.
Obviously, the game has changed since the late eighties and offenses are more sophisticated. The rules of the game have changed to open up the offenses and the passing game has evolved over the past 20 years. Defensive coordinators are now facing a wide variety of offenses and defending them with fewer scholarship players. Defenses are now designed with multiple formations solely based on down and distance along with personnel changes in the lineup.
Despite the changes, Muschamp's defenses from 2002-2004 came close in comparison with Auburn's defense from 1987-1989.
Auburn 1987-1989: 259.6 yards allowed per game/ 4.07 yards per play/9.5 points per game/2.88 turnovers per game
LSU 2002-2004: 265.1 yards allowed per game/4.23 yards per play/15.3 points per game/2.08 turnovers per game
Auburn 2002-2004: 295.9 yards allowed per game/4.67 yards per play/15.1 points per game/2.17 turnovers per game
Just knowing Muschamp fielded a defense somewhere between the level of one of Auburn's best defenses in school history and the best defenses under Tuberville should be very comforting to the Auburn fan base.
A better comparison of success would be Auburn and LSU's common opponents from 2002 through 2004. During the 2002 season, LSU allowed 17 points per game and Auburn gave up 23 points per game to common opponents. In 2003, LSU held the advantage again with 11 points allowed to Auburn's 16 points surrendered against common opponents.
Former Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik left AU after the Tigers' 13-0 2004 season.
Gene Chizik and Auburn finally gained the advantage in 2004 with 13 points allowed compared to LSU's 19 points per game against common opponents.
During Muschamp's three-year run as the LSU defensive coordinator, LSU led the Southeastern Conference in run defense, pass defense and total defense. LSU was the only defense to allow less than six yards per pass attempt and a completion percentage fewer than 50 percent over the three-year period from 2002 through 2004. LSU held its 39 opponents to less than 100 yards rushing 25 times.
During the same time span, Chizik's defense at Auburn held its opponent to less than 100 yards rushing 18 times. Muschamp's defense held its opponents to fewer than 200 yards passing 27 of 39 times and Chizik's defense did it 25 of 39 games. Muschamp's defense held its opponent to less than 300 yards in total offense in 26 of 39 games while Chizik's defense totaled 20 in 39 games. LSU's defense under Muschamp held its opponent to less than 100 yards rushing and less than 200 yards passing in 17 of 39 games. Chizik's defense accomplished the same "combo" goal in 11 of 39 games between 2002 and 2004.
The future is now under Muschamp and Auburn is already seeing changes on the defensive side of the football. Though Auburn's base defense will be a "4-3" scheme, Auburn is also experimenting with formations out of the "3-4" defense. The defensive coordinator has already stated that he wants to put the best 11 on the field and several players have been moved to new positions. Will Herring's move from safety to linebacker appears to be good one and defensive end Chris Browder has been moved inside to tackle. Quentin Groves will become a hybrid defensive end/linebacker under Muschamp's schemes, which should Groves to become a major "playmaker" in 2006. Groves will be called upon as a defensive end in the "4-3" and a blitzing outside linebacker in the "3-4" scheme.
Will Herring should have more chances to be physical at his new position this season.
Pat Sims and Tez Doolittle had their best spring practice since arriving at Auburn, which will be a major key for success in 2006. The combination of David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite at corner should give Auburn the ability to run more press coverages and to blitz more often. Linebacker Tray Blackmon is known for crushing everything in his path and he should thrive in Muschamp's attack schemes.
It's evident the players are excited with the new defensive coordinator. The defense is designed to attack in order to make plays and to force more turnovers. Despite the changes on defense, the players are having fun, soaking up Muschamp's passion for the game. The heart and soul of any defense is the defensive line. Under Muschamp, Auburn will slant more often and the Tigers will blitz from a variety of positions out of the "3-4" scheme. Defensive players tend to be more focused on the game when they are in an attack role rather than a reactionary mindset. Relying on instinct and their athletic ability, Auburn defenders will now try to dictate the flow of the game rather than countering it.
This season Auburn will possess coordinators on both sides of the ball,who will relentlessly attack the opponent. While at LSU, Muschamp's defense was the foundation to a National Championship run in 2003 and Al Borges has fielded the top offense in the Southeastern Conference over the past two years. The combination of the two coaches could prove to be something very special in 2006.