StatTiger: Offense Better, Is Defense Next?

Stuart Carter (StatTiger) analyzes the offense and defense heading into season two of the Gene Chizik Era of Auburn football.

When Gene Chizik hired Gus Malzahn as Auburn's offensive coordinator, it raised the anticipation and excitement level of the fan base. In just his first season, Coach Malzahn lived up to the hype, improving the Auburn offense from 104th nationally in total offense to No. 16 in 2009.

It was the second best improvement from 2008 to 2009 at the FBS level and the best improvement by a FBS team from a major conference.

Based on yards per game, it was also the second best improvement by an Auburn offense in school history. Malzahn brought a level of excitement back to the offense not seen since 2004 and it was arguably the most dynamic offense in school history when you consider how the skill players were utilized in Malzahn's schemes. It was an offense that generated 121 impact plays or plays of 15 yards or more, surpassing the 112 produced by the 2004 Auburn offense.

Auburn's improvement on offense validated the hiring of Malzahn and with the impressive commitment list of offensive players for 2010 it appears Auburn is in good shape to reload for year two under Malzahn.

Despite the remarkable improvement on offense, it only produced eight wins for the Tigers in 2009 because the defense suffered through depth issues and injuries during Chizik's first season. Even if the 2010 Auburn offense equals or improves on its totals from 2009, the Tigers will need to improve on defense to make bigger waves in the Southeastern Conference. Looking back at the most successful teams during this decade, defense was the common denominator.

National Defensive Rankings:

*2002 Georgia--15th total defense/4th scoring defense

2003 LSU--1st total defense/1st scoring defense

2004 Auburn--5th total defense/1st scoring defense

2006 Florida--6th total defense/6th scoring defense

2006 LSU--3rd total defense/4th scoring defense

2006 Auburn--19th total defense/7th scoring defense

2007 LSU--7th total defense/17th scoring defense

2008 Florida--9th total defense/4th scoring defense

2009 Alabama--2nd total defense/2nd scoring defense

2009 Florida--4th total defense/4th scoring defense

One of the reasons why the Southeastern Conference has a higher winning percentage in BCS Bowl games over the past five years is because of defense. There has been a common theme among the last four SEC teams to capture the last four consecutive BCS National Championships. They were all built around a very stout defense and the ability to run the football.

When Texas rolled into Pasadena to square off with Alabama, it faced off with a team unlike any other the Longhorns played during its 13-0 run in the Big XII. The Big XII as of late has become a passing conference and the Texas defense was designed to defend those types of offenses.

With the exception of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, no other team in the Big XII plays the style of defense found in the Southeastern Conference.

Building a Championship Defense

Based on the recruiting rankings compiled by of the top 30 high school players from the defensive front seven positions, the Southeastern Conference has signed nearly 30 percent of the top front seven defensive players from 2002-2009, which is more than any other conference.

During the last 10 seasons the SEC had more teams (23) to finish in the Top 10 of scoring defense than any other conference. During the same time period 25 Southeastern Conference teams have finished in the Top 10 of total defense, more than any other conference.

There are a few teams nationally that recruit defensive talent as well as the SEC such as Southern Cal, Texas, Oklahoma, Miami and Florida State, but in terms of conference comparison, the Southeastern Conference is like no other.

How does Auburn compare?

You can bet Chizik knows the importance of restoring order to the Auburn defense. He was a very successful defensive coordinator at Central Florida, Auburn and Texas before landing his first head coaching gig. Auburn's 68th ranked defense last season will not take the Tigers any closer to winning a championship than it did in 2009 so it must start in the recruiting front.

Josh Bynes, who will be a senior linebacker this fall, is expected to be a leader of the Auburn defense.

Depth issues became a major hindrance this past season and the Tigers are in dire need of filling their defense with talent as well as depth. From 1997-2006, Auburn's leading tackler by game came from the front seven in 76 percent of its games. From 2007-2009, that percentage has dropped to 50.0 percent. Auburn must improve the play of its front seven to create a dominating defense.

Taking a look at the total number of defensive linemen and linebackers who were ranked in the nation's Top 30 coming out of high school, here are the total numbers signed by a SEC school from 2002-2009.

Tennessee 32
LSU 30
Florida 30
Georgia 29
Alabama 26
Auburn 18
Mississippi State 12
Ole Miss 11
Arkansas 9
South Carolina 5
Kentucky 2
Vanderbilt 1

Here is the total number of high school defensive tackles ranked in the nation's Top 30 signed by a SEC school from 2002-2009.

LSU 13 Alabama 12
Florida 7
Georgia 7
Tennessee 6
Mississippi State 5
Ole Miss 4
Auburn 3
Arkansas 1
South Carolina 1
Kentucky 0
Vanderbilt 0

If the Auburn Tigers are to return to competing for conference titles, the defense must improve significantly. The current commitments for 2010 include a very solid group of linebackers, a position the Tigers had very little depth at in 2009. It's a good start, but talent and depth is needed on the defensive front.

Under Tommy Tuberville, Auburn traditionally was consistent on the ends but the interior line was rarely dominant. Having a strong front four will improve the overall performance of the linebackers keeping the big uglies from opposing teams from locking up on the pursuing linebackers. The offense has arrived but will remain in limbo until the Auburn defense can carry its own weight. How long Auburn's wait will be remains to be seen.

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