Make no mistake about it, Coach Tuberville knows "defense," hiring the man he wanted for the position. Coach Muschamp's arrival brought more enthusiasm and pride to the defense. He has been demanding of his players right from the start, but he quickly earned their respect.
He is the best kind of coach in that he is a teacher first. The most athletic player may not be effective if he doesn't understand his role within the scheme. Within time, players will emulate the personality of their coach. After three games, the Auburn defense has been relentless in effort and aggressive in personality. The secondary has turned into "headhunters," attacking the ball rather than waiting for the play to come to them.
During the history of Auburn football, the Tigers most successful teams have been accompanied by great defensive play. When Auburn hired Tuberville, they brought in a coach with a very successful background in defense himself. In turn, Tuberville fielded a Top 20 defense with John Lovette, Gene Chizik and David Gibbs as the Auburn defensive coordinators with the head coach being the common denominator.
Under Tuberville, Auburn has produced eight of the top 20 defensive performances (points allowed) against Top 10 ranked opponents since 1951. The three points allowed to No. 6 LSU this past Saturday was the second best performance since Shug Jordan arrived in 1951.
1957 No. 8 Tennessee ……… 0 points
No. 6 LSU ……………. 3 points
2003 No. 7 Arkansas ………. 3 points
1959 No. 4 Georgia Tech ….. 6 points
1972 No. 4 Tennessee ……… 6 points
2004 No. 5 Georgia ………… 6 points
1968 No. 9 Miami ………….. 6 points
1987 No. 10 Florida ………... 6 points
1983 No. 7 Georgia ………… 7 points
2002 No. 7 Alabama ……….. 7 points
1961 No. 8 Georgia Tech ….. 7 points
1967 No. 8 Alabama ………. 7 points
1983 No. 8 Michigan ……… 7 points
2002 No. 10 LSU …………. 7 points
1963 No. 6 Alabama ……… 8 points
2004 No. 4 LSU ………….. 9 ponts
1971 No. 9 Tennessee ……. 9 points
2002 No. 10 Penn State …… 9 points
2004 No. 8 Tennessee …….. 10 points
1987 No. 8 Georgia ……….. 11 points
Since 1981, Tuberville's defense has recorded seven of the Top 20 performances against Top 10 ranked opponents in terms of yards allowed. Pat Dye's teams were responsible for 10 of the Top 20 and Terry Bowden's defenses had the remaining three.
Auburn posted a 2-7-1 record in Dye's top performances, 0-3-0 under Terry Bowden and is 6-1-0 under Tuberville.
From 2000-2006, Auburn's defense has held 38 of its 76 opponents to under 300 yards in total offense, posting a 35-3 record in those games. Dye's teams were 64-16-2 when holding an opponent to under 300 yards in total offense, accomplishing the task in 82 of 133 regular season games. Terry Bowden's defenses held 27 of 69 opponents under 300 yards in total offense, compiling a 22-5 record.
From 1981-1992, the Tigers held 58 of their 142 opponents to 10 points or less, posting a 55-3 record. From 1993-1998, 12 of Auburn's 70 opponents were held to 10 points or less, winning all 10 games. Since Tuberville's arrival, Auburn has held 27 of its 90 opponents to 10 points or less, compiling a 27-0 record and a 39-0 record with 14 points or less allowed.
The biggest concern entering the 2006 season was the new faces in the playing rotation. Add to the mix the suspension of two key linebackers and Auburn had immediate concern with linebacker depth. The youth has responded with four of the top six tacklers being first-time starters.
Comparing the 2006 defense to the 2004 defense, Auburn has allowed 4.17 yards per play and two touchdowns in 179 plays this season. After three games into the 2004 season, the Tigers gave up 4.31 yards per play and three touchdowns in 190 plays.
Sen'Derrick Marks is one of top performers on defense to this point through three games.
During the spring, the defensive tackle position was a huge question mark, but the rotation of Pat Sims, Josh Thompson, Sen'Derrick Marks and Tez Dolittle has been very solid. Sims, Thompson and Marks are among the top eight leading tacklers on the team. True freshman, Jermarcus Ricks has potential and Greg Smith could make a late season appearance if the coaches can get him into playing shape. Kevin Sears returns this week to add much needed depth at linebacker and Tray Blackmon will likely be a welcomed addition some time later this season.
After allowing two touchdown drives in nine possessions, the Auburn defense has surrendered only three points in the last 25. Auburn faithful were expecting big plays on defense with Muschamp's attack styled defense. Three games into the season, the Tiger defense has recorded 10 quarterback sacks and forced four turnovers while allowing three plays of 30 yards or more. In comparison, the 2004 defense had six sacks, six forced-turnovers and three big plays allowed after three games.
Muschamp continues to rotate his safeties depending on the game situation. Though they have been caught out of position a few times, you have to like their effort and hustle on the field. With youth, mental mistakes should be expected, but they are flying to the ball to make the play.
Luck in football can often be defined when effort and being in the right place occurs at the same time. Aairon Savage, Eric Brock and Tristan Davis have all recorded big-time hits, which was a trademark of LSU safety play under Muschamp.
Though undersized, the combination of Karibi Dede, Will Herring and Merrill Johnson at linebacker continues to improve each game. They are currently the three leaders in tackles on defense. The return of Sears and Blackmon will make the three current starters more productive by relieving them on the field.
Auburn is blessed with speed at defensive end and the Tigers are doing a much better job of defending the run compared to 2005. The tackle position is solid, but Smith could give Auburn the much-needed push inside.
David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite are lockdown corners and the safeties are improving game by game. If the Tigers can avoid any major injuries on defense, this unit is good enough to win a national championship, but will require the assistance of a more efficient offense to get them there.