Auburn, Ala.--It wasn't pretty and at times it was downright ugly but Auburn's defensive performance against Ole Miss Saturday was in a word effective. Allowing just 256 yards of total offense and only 82 after the half, Auburn did just enough to get its eight victory of the season despite giving up several big plays. Coordinator Will Muschamp says that after watching the film the big plays are the thing that stand out to him.
"The big plays are disappointing," Muschamp says. "We gave up five big plays in the game, explosive plays of more than 15 yards. Two of them obviously were the fullback down the middle. It's the same play we rep against our offense every day in practice. We just didn't cover it and didn't recognize it the second time he was in the game at the position. The over route we were in cover three and miss a tackle. It's a 15-yard gain and it turns into a 38-yard gain on the missed tackle. You have to wrap up in the secondary. Aairon Savage was probably not 100 percent and it was probably unfair to him to have played him as much as we did. He missed some tackles because of his shoulder more than anything else. It's our fault not his."
Since Auburn gave up a ton of yardage on the ground to the Arkansas Razorbacks in a loss, the focus of the defense has been to stop the running game. Despite some lapses against both Florida and late against Tulane for the most part that has been a success. Saturday the Tigers had a great day in shutting down Benjarvus Green-Ellis and the Ole Miss running game. Muschamp says they had a few mistakes but other than that played very well against the Rebels.
"I think the last time we played a power running team we didn't play very well obviously," Muschamp says. "I think we played it much better. We had two runs come out on us but both are correctable situations. The five-technique got cut off and the tackle got to our backside backer. When you play against a running team they may hit a run or two against you."
Tray Blackmon is getting better each week and had a very good performance against Ole Miss.
One of the players that had a big hand in helping Auburn's run defense was redshirt freshman linebacker Tray Blackmon. One of the Tigers' most productive players on defense despite sharing time with Merrill Johnson, Blackmon had several big plays including a perfect form tackle when he met the running back in the hole and stood him up. Muschamp says that despite his missed time the LaGrange, Ga. native has played very well to this point.
"Tray is an instinctive football player," Muschamp says. "It comes easy to him. He's a good player and a good tackler. He has a great feel for the game and he understands football. He's a kid that has a great nose for the ball and great instincts. He was one of our players of the game. He had 19 production points in 26 snaps. That's pretty good. I should have played him more."
Out the first six games of the season because of a suspension, Blackmon was thrown into the fire against the Florida Gators and responded with one of the biggest plays of the year for Auburn when he caused a fumble from Chris Leak. Muschamp says although he missed a lot of practice time it hasn't caused him any problems on the field and he's been fundamentally and technically sound.
"Tray hasn't busted an assignment since he's been in there," Muschamp says. "The announcer in the Florida game said he busted all these assignments, the kid lined up correctly and did the right thing. We had them in space a lot and it might have looked like he didn't know what he was doing but he was doing the right things. He's played good smart football for us this year."
While Blackmon and the Auburn defense played well in the second half, in the first half much like Florida they were gashed for big yardage. Despite having just 21 plays Ole Miss had 174 yards of total offense thanks to several big plays. Just like they have done all season the Tigers were able to overcome mistakes on defense by playing solid defense in the red zone. Muschamp says playing well in the red zone is the ultimate goal for a defense but he's looking for more out of his unit in the coming weeks.
"Each week people attack you different ways," Muschamp says. "We've been able to adapt and adjust as the season has gone on, not as quickly as we would have liked to in some games because we've given up some yards on some plays. The bottom line is that we've played very well in the red area all season. That's one of our goals is to make them kick field goals. We've done that. As long as you do that you can play well. In the games we've played well in the red area and played well on third down we've played really well on defense. We've played really well on defense at times this season. We just have to get consistency and performance in what we're trying to do."