There has been plenty of discussion about Auburn's defensive performance against South Carolina. My initial thoughts focused on the three-man pass rush and the failure to contain South Carolina QB Syvelle Newton. With this in mind, I went back and watched the game again, breaking down Auburn's pass rush and the results on passing plays by South Carolina.
During the first half, Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp rushed three defenders on eight passing plays. The Tiger defense made two sacks, holding Newton to minus five yards on five carries, including the sacks. Newton was 2-3 passing for 27 yards, totaling 22 yards in eight plays for an average of 2.75 yards per play.
When AU rushed four defenders on passing downs, Newton had 14 yards on one carry and was 2 of 4 passing for 11 yards. There was one additional play with a 4-man rush but the play was negated by a penalty. Total yards gained, 25 yards on 5 plays. The Tigers brought at least 5 defenders on a pass rush a total of ten times. Two plays were called back on penalties. Newton had 4 yards on 3 carries and was 4-6 passing for 80 yards and one TD. He totaled 84 yards on nine plays when rushed by at least 5 defenders.
3-man rush: 22 yards / 8 plays / 2.75 yards per play
4-man rush: 25 yards / 5 plays / 5.00 yards per play
5-man rush: 84 yards / 9 plays / 9.33 yards per play
During the first half, Muschamp brought the blitz 44 percent of the time and rushed only three 32 percent of the time. By the above results, the Gamecocks were more effective when AU blitzed than when they rushed only three.
Of the five biggest completions made by Newton in the first half, four of them came when Auburn had five or more defenders blitzing. A total of 71 percent of his total passing yardage in the first half, came when Auburn blitzed.
During the second half, Auburn elected to go with a three-man pass rush for the majority of the time. This decision was probably made based on the results from the first half. Also playing into the decision was Coach Steve Spurrier's decision to go with a five-receiver set and an empty backfield on most passing downs.
When Auburn rushed only three during the second half, Newton had 11 yards on three carries and was 8-11 for 86 yards and one TD. He totaled 97 yards on 14 plays.
When AU rushed four defenders, Newton rushed for 17 yards on two carries and went 4-6 for 29 yards, totaling 46 yards on eight plays.
When AU brought five or more with the pass rush, Newton had five yards on two carries and was 1-5 for eight yards passing. He totaled 13 yards on seven plays when the Tigers dialed the blitz.
3-man rush: 97 yards / 14 plays / 6.93 yards per play
4-man rush: 46 yards / 8 plays / 5.75 yards per play5-man rush: 13 yards / 7 plays / 1.86 yards per play
3-man rush: 119 yards / 22 plays / 5.41 yards per play
4-man rush: 71 yards / 13 plays / 5.46 yards per play
5-man rush: 97 yards / 16 plays / 6.06 yards per play
Including the penalty plays, Auburn rushed four or five defenders, 60 percent of the time on passing plays and three defenders 40 percent of the time.
During the first half, Newton was 5-5 passing on third down for 86 yards and one TD. Auburn blitzed Newton on three of the five pass plays giving up 59 yards on those three blitz plays. During the second half, Newton was only one of three passing for 10 yards on 3rd down but went 3-4 on 4th down.
Of Auburn's four sacks on Newton, three came with only a three-man rush, which also probably played on Muschamp's mind.
Looking back at the game and considering the above numbers, I can see why Muschamp called the game he did. During the first half, Auburn was actually more effective with a three-man rush than blitzing. Credit must go to Spurrier for going with a five wide receiver and for Newton playing a great game. I also noticed numerous plays, where AU defenders missed the tackle or took a poor angle on their pass rush, allowing Newton to escape the pocket. Don't forget the dropped pick, which might have gone for six by Savage, late in the game.
I'm not making any excuses for Coach Muschamp or the play of AU's defense, but I now have a better understanding of why Muschamp schemed the way he did. For those wanting more blitzes, it's a chess match when to call them. Back in 2004, LSU blitzed the mess out of David Green against UGA and was toasted for 45 points and five TD passes. Auburn had a bad game on defense Thursday night, but it wasn't because Muschamp did not know what he was doing.