They are a little bigger than they've been up front, probably not as fast in the secondary. But overall, they are the best defense the Gators have seen to date. They allow just about 300 yards a game, only 113 on the ground. None of their four opponents topped 20 points in regulation time.
The strength of the defense is up front with a line that really has five starters. They are strong inside with Josh Thompson and Pat Sims who are both 300-pounds-plus and get good push up the middle. On the outside, you have one of the SEC's best in Quentin Groves who could become Auburn's all-time sacks leader Saturday. Sen'derrick Marks is a strong run defender at the other end, but in obvious passing situations they bring in Antonio Coleman who leads the team with three sacks.
The linebackers are either pretty good or really good depending on the status of Tray Blackmon. He's as talented (and as troubled) as any linebacker in the conference, but has not played since suffering a high ankle sprain in the season opener. Blackmon is virtually certain to give it a go Saturday. In his absence, Chris Evans is the leading tackler, but three of the top five tacklers are defensive backs.
The secondary is solid but you can attack them. New Mexico State threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns but also threw three interceptions. They play a lot of nickel package. Cornerback Jerraud Powers and Strong safety Zac Etheridge are the only guys who have started each game. Auburn has intercepted five passes, but the secondary has just two both by senior Jonathan Wilhite.
There's no debate that Auburn is the best defense the Gators have faced this season. I would expect them to play like Ole Miss in terms of trying to take away big plays, but they have much better personnel. Florida can move the ball against them, but can't ask Tebow to carry it 28 times. Auburn is WAY too physical for that. Diversifying the offense this week is a must and they need to try to impose their will on any soft zone Auburn throws in there.
Special Teams --- Auburn has two punters and they are both good. Ryan Shoemaker has the big leg, averaging more than 47 a punt, while Patrick Tatum has knocked seven of eleven inside the 20. They cover punts well and are pretty good returning them with Robert Dunn. They have not done much with kickoff returns, but did allow a 59 return to South Florida. The field goal kicker Wes Byrum is 6-for-8, just 2-4 from beyond 40 yards and had one blocked. I look for Auburn to do what Ole Miss did not do and sell out on a punt block at least once and maybe more often than that. They blocked one last year, and Florida's freshman Chas Henry can be slow to get it off. If there is any other big play in the special teams area it'll most likely be made by Brandon James.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel
Scouting Report: Auburn Defense
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