Defense A Concern For Chizik

Auburn Coach Gene Chizik talks about the Tigers' loss to Arkansas and the problems on defense.

Auburn, Ala.--Over 24 hours later Auburn Coach Gene Chizik said watching the video of the Tigers' 44-23 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks didn't change his initial impression of the game. With mistakes in every phase of the game costing the Tigers, Chizik said the loss is one everybody including himself.

"The previous games were total team wins," Chizik said. "This one was a total team loss everywhere you look. There is so much room for improvement needed for our football team to win tough conference games. We didn't make any improvements Saturday, anywhere. We were just poor all the way around. It doesn't mean there weren't some things we did do well, because there were, but certainly not enough.

"You go on the road and there is no way you can turn the ball over three times and win the game and have eight penalties. You just can't do it. Our margin for error is certainly not even close to being where it needs to be to be able to do that and win."

The root of the problems likely started last week in practice as Chizik along with offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn talked about practices that weren't as good as the week before preparing for Tennessee. Chizik said he's not sure why it happened, but it's something they're going to try hard to avoid down the road.

"I just felt like the focus of our team was a little bit out there," Chizik said. "I didn't feel like we were focused on the details of the game. I told them that Thursday. I felt like we played that way.

"Obviously these are uncharted waters for us," he added. "I haven't been through a week where we've lost yet. We certainly feel like there are many things we can take from this and become a better football team. We're at a point in the season where depth is an issue and we're banged up. I don't know how well at 5-0 we handled all of the outside stuff. Certainly none of those are excuses. We as coaches have to get them ready to play and they weren't. That starts with me at the top."

It wasn't all bad according to Chizik. After all, the Tigers did run for 242 yards and average 6.9 yards per carry as a team. They also had a solid game in one area on defense, holding Arkansas to just 5-13 on third down conversions. Those things helped the team make a run in the second half, but it was too little for a full game to pull out a win.

"We had points in the game where we really fought back and had some energy and breathed some life back into our team again," Chizik said. "There are those types of things that went on throughout the game, but the outcome was very disappointing."

Through six games the Auburn Tigers are giving up 27.2 points per game with opponents averaging 164.7 yards per game on the ground. That was particularly a problem against Arkansas as a team that came in 11th in the league in rushing churned our 221 yards and four touchdowns. Chizik said right now that's his main concern on defense.

"We've just to go continue to try to improve defensively in base defense things," Chizik said. "Right now run defense is an issue and it's only going to get tougher as far as who we're playing. We know that. We've got to shore that up and continue to make strides on defense to get better. We're not anywhere close to where we need to be in this league right now. We've got to be better tacklers and continue to work on the things we've been stressing."

On the injury front senior cornerback Walter McFadden was banged up in the first half of Saturday's game and did not return. Chizik said it looks like the injury won't be a serious one, but his status for this week is day to day. The linebacker depth continues to take a hit as freshman Harris Gaston could be out once again after he didn't travel to Arkansas because of an injury. Linebacker Eltoro Freeman also didn't travel because of personal issues and Chizik said he's not sure when he'll return to practice.

That leaves a major depth problem at the position and with the defense already struggling, Chizik said it has forced starters Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes to log big numbers in each game. That could prove to be a big concern the longer the season goes on.

"We're only halfway through the season," Chizik said. "Take Craig Stevens right now and how many tackles he's got. I'm proud of him because he's stacking up the tackles, but I wouldn't prefer it. That's because we're on the field so much right now. That's a catch 22. You would love to give those guys some rest. Craig plays punt team and sometimes covers kickoffs. That's just where we're at."

Preparing to face some physical running teams down the road, starting this week with Kentucky, the Tigers are looking for help at linebacker. With Gaston out at the moment it could be Jonathan Evans that gets more of a look, but Chizik said he's got some things he needs to improve on.

"Harris is dinged up and right now it's a day-by-day thing with him," Chizik said. "Jonathan has played some, more on special teams than anything. He's been in games. We've put him in there. He'll continue to learn. He's not playing as much on defense as we need him to right now. He's got to come on and make sure we feel good about putting him in there. Right now we're not quite there, but by necessity he has to be in there somewhere."

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