Auburn defense

The Auburn Tigers would've fielded a top-20 team in 2008 if games lasted 30 minutes instead of 60.

The '08 Tigers showed a knack for really good starts and really bad finishes. Auburn outscored opponents 131-76 in the first half last fall but was outscored 140-77 in the second half. The Tigers led nine of their 12 opponents at halftime, and trailed Georgia by a single point (7-6).

Auburn's 2008 offense was so inept, however, that it left the defense on the field most of each game. As a result, an overworked Tiger stop unit tended to falter in the final two quarters each week en route to a 5-7 disappointment.

Consider:

- Auburn was outscored 23-7 in the second half of a 26-21 loss to LSU

- Auburn was outscored 7-0 in the second half of a 14-13 loss to Vanderbilt

- Auburn was outscored 15-9 in the second half of a 25-22 loss to Arkansas

- Auburn was outscored 24-0 in the second half of a 34-17 loss to West Virginia

- Auburn was outscored 26-0 in the second half of a 36-0 loss to Alabama

The Tigers' offensive ineptitude clearly took a toll on the defense as last season progressed. After allowing just 30 points in the first four games of 2008, an average of 7.5 per game, Auburn allowed 107 points in the final four games, an average of 26.8 per game.

Assuming new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn lives up to his reputation, the Tiger offense will give the defense a lot more help and a lot more rest in 2009. That could enable Auburn to field one of the SEC's premier defenses.

Even with minimal help from the offense last fall, Auburn allowed just 18.0 points per game. The Tigers gave up just 7 rushing touchdown and limited foes to a 29-percent third-down conversion rate.

Auburn returns most of the key players from last year's defense. A notable exception is cornerback Jerraud Powers, who jumped to the NFL rather than return for his senior year.

The returnees include standout end Antonio Coleman (46 tackles, 6 sacks), tackle Zach Clayton (4.5 sacks), safety Zac Etheridge (75 stops), safety Mike McNeil (65 stops) and linebackers Craig Stephens (54 stops) and Josh Bynes (53). McNeil broke his leg during spring practice, however, and could miss the first few games of '09.

Bottom line: New head coach Gene Chizik is known as a defensive mastermind. So is new defensive coordinator Ted Roof. They should field an exceptional Tiger defense in 2009 ... assuming the stop unit gets more help from the attack unit than it did a year ago.


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