Auburn, Ala.--After three games Auburn's defense is allowing just 282.7 yards per game (20th in the country), 11.3 rushing yards per game (36th) and is 37th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 19.3 points per game. Those numbers don't mean anything to defensive coordinator Will Muschamp though as all he can think about it being 0-2.
"Two weeks in a row we've had the opportunity to win the game on defense and we haven't done it," Muschamp said. "That's disappointing. We were a little soft on the run, especially in the first drive. We came around and played pretty well for a stretch of the game. There at the end we just didn't make the plays."
While the Tigers did a good job overall against Mississippi State, allowing just 12 defensive points and 213 yards total offense, there is a lot of room for improvement as Auburn gets ready to face the high-powered New Mexico State Aggies this weekend. Muschamp singled out three players for their performances but also noted there are many more that need to get better.
"Jerraud Powers and Patrick Lee, and Pat Sims played well," Muschamp said. "They were pretty productive. We need to have more production up front against a two-back running team, especially at the linebacker position. In a two-back, power running game, the linebackers have to make a lot of plays. We didn't make enough at those positions."
Showing glimpses of his talent his first four seasons on the Plains, one as a redshirt, Lee has been a solid contributor on defense through three games as senior. Despite dropping two easy interceptions this season, one against MSU that would have gone for a touchdown, Lee is improving every day out.
That is important with starter Jonathan Wilhite banged up with a hamstring injury that has sidelined him for all or part of the first three games. Facing an offense that throws the ball on almost every down, Muschamp said Lee and the cornerbacks will have to be ready this week.
"Pat deserves to start," Muschamp said. "He's played really well for us. I consider all those guys starters. They all have played well at times. It's unfortunate with Jonathan pulling his hamstring. We've just got to work through this week to find our best combination of guys and those will be the guys that will play.
"They're all going to have to play well," he added. "They'll all have plenty of opportunities, about 60. The ball will be in the air a lot. They're going to have to create some opportunities for our team and when we have opportunities to get interceptions we need to get them. We need to get some turnovers. It's something we're emphasizing but we're obviously not doing a good enough job."
Sophomore Walter McFadden is one of the players that will likely have to see plenty of action this coming Saturday.
Helping the cornerbacks is the return of sophomore safety Aairon Savage to the playing field against Mississippi State. Out since early in the season opener against Kansas State with an ankle injury, Savage came back and played well against the Bulldogs said Muschamp.
"It was good to get Aairon back," Muschamp said. "He looked good in pregame and we decided to go ahead and go with him if we got the opportunity. I wanted to get him in during the third series, which is what happened. He played well getting back in the fray of things."
Staring their first losing streak of two games since 2003 squarely in the face, the Tigers will attempt to build some momentum this week against New Mexico State. With trips to Gainesville, Arkansas and LSU coming up in the next month along with a home game against Vanderbilt, Auburn has to get things turned around in a hurry. Muschamp said all you can do at a time like this is keep working.
"We're down," Muschamp said. "The kids are down. They are upset. We haven't lost two games around here in a long time. We lost two games all of last season. It's a new week. It's New Mexico State. It's an opportunity to get the bad taste out of your mouth.
"You just keep working," Muschamp added. "We're all disappointed but there is nobody more disappointed than those kids in that locker room. Nobody is more down than those kids in that locker room. Nobody is more hurt than them. All we can do is provide technical direction to where we need to go and what we need to do to win games. That's what we're doing. We're being as positive as we can to show them what we did wrong and what we can do to correct the things we're doing wrong to put ourselves in a position to win the game."