It was more of the same with the 2013 Texas Aggie defense. The front seven can't stop the run so the safeties are preoccupied with run support, and then play action generates wide open receivers, tight ends, and running backs coming out of the backfield. In fact, it seems the unit gets burned for a long gain on a wheel route once every game. The Tigers completed only 11 passes on Saturday, but they averaged over 20 yards per reception. Ultimately, that's not a pass coverage problem. It's a front seven issue with the defensive linemen and linebackers needing help stopping the run.
So why can't they stop the run? It's a combination of factors. The defensive front isn't keeping its gap responsibilities. Some of that is inexperience, but on Saturday it was mostly a physical issue. Auburn was simply bigger and more physical up-front. The only true interior DL on the field is freshman Isaiah Golden. Alonzo Williams and Ivan Robinson are hybrid DT/DE types, and when the unit goes up against a big, physical, ground-based OL like Auburn, they simply don't have the horsepower to hold the rope. That affects the linebackers because they don't have a clean look at the ball carriers. However, that doesn't absolve the linebackers who frankly look sluggish and out of place. Throw this in the overriding problem of poor tackling by all defenders at every position and this is a recipe for a 615-yard game and a 45-41 loss.
What makes Saturday's performance intriguing though is that the defense actually had periods of inspired, effective play in the second and third quarters. A defensive stand inside the Auburn 10 yard-line led to a quick A&M TD in the final minute of the half to go up 24-17. In fact, the Aggies forced three straight three-and-outs in a scoreless second quarter. Then, coming out to start the second stanza, the defense forced a three-and-out. In all, the defense created stops on four of the five Auburn possessions in the middle frames.
But, games are won and lost in the fourth quarter and a beaten down A&M defense gave up 21 points in the final stanza. The same thing happened in the Ole Miss game, but the offense was resilient enough to overcome that 21-point rampage. It makes you wonder if more rotation throughout the game along the DL is the answer. I don't know, but like everybody else following the A&M defense, I'm searching high and low for answers.
Defensive Line D-
The defensive front was physically dominated by a physical Auburn offensive line. I don't know if Coach Snyder has any answers with mainly undersized hybrid veterans like Alonzo Williams and Ivan Robinson in the middle, and natural DT's that are all true freshmen. I guess Snyder has to pick his poison, and other than Golden forced into duty with the injury to Kirby Ennis, the staff has chosen the undersized veteran route to date. The line should fare better with less physically imposing OL's on the slate the next three weeks, but LSU looms in a month and all of a sudden what was thought to be a likely victory at Missouri looks to be a difficult challenge against the likely SEC east division champion. But that's not the only problem. Tackling is atrocious. On a critical fourth down play inside the Aggie five yard line early in the second quarter with A&M up 14-10, veteran Julien Obioha had a clean shot on Tre Mason behind the line of scrimmage and it looked to be a successful stop, but he allowed mason to get underneath his grasp and spring forward for the first down. They scored three plays later. Veterans have to make plays when they are in position to make them.
While there are problem all across this defense that ranks near the bottom of most NCAA statistical categories, the linebacking corps is the poster child for bad defense. And you really can't blame it on youth and inexperience because the true freshman (Darian Claiborne) playing is the best of the bunch. I thought Steven Jenkins has been the biggest disappointment in the 2013 season. He simply isn't making plays. He looks sluggish and out of place. He put up very little resistance when he was out in the flat needing to make a one-on-one tackle on Nick Marshall and he watched him go by and into the end zone on Auburn's first touchdown. Donnie Baggs was another veteran expected to anchor the position and he's been replaced. It's been a big disappointment to say the least. But, we're now in game seven and you have to wonder why one of the remaing five newcomers at the position haven't been able to crack the lineup when the starters are obviously struggling. It makes you wonder.
Defensive Backs C
If you look at any level of football, if the quarterback has time in the pocket to throw the ball, he'll make some plays down the field. So I'm not too concerned when Deshazor Everett or Tramain Jacobs get beat a step on a pass play downfield. It happens to the best corners in the business. But the corners are also making some pretty nice plays out there, so I'm not going to be too hard on the unit. The safety position has been a constant worry this season and they continue to miss tackles and find themselves out of position on blitzes and play action passes. As I said earlier, that's not completely their fault as they are being forced to cheat up in run support given the 379 yards surrendered on the ground Saturday, but they do need to occasionally make a good play along the way. Floyd Raven had a solid game, although the missed interception could have been big. Overall though, the secondary is not this defense's primary problem.
Defensive Coaching D
I mentioned this in my quick game thoughts thread, but I'm starting to think Coach Snyder is getting too cute on his calls and trying to play chess too much with the opposing offensive coordinator instead of getting his best eleven on the field, set, and comfortable in the play call from the sideline. He made a critical mistake in the red zone with the Aggies leading 34-24. Auburn was hit with a holding penalty and faced second down and 19. Snyder scrambles to get his 3-3-5 pass rush unit on the field and when they get out there late and look to the sideline for the call, Auburn is ready to snap the ball and the new players like Tyrone Taylor and Daeshon Hall looked lost. On top of that, with the way A&M was giving up rushing yards, I'd never consider second and 19 a definite passing down. Sure enough, Auburn sees the three man front and they run the ball 17 yards to set-up a short third down and two. Auburn doesn't substitute and gets over the ball. Snyder is frantically trying to get back in a run defense and starts sending in players. Basically, players were not even set when Auburn snapped it and the QB virtually went untouched into the end zone to make it 34-31 and bring it back within one score. It reminded me of Tim DeRuyter trying to substitute against OSU two years ago and gassing his players on substitutions on the other side of the field.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE D
Hop's Defensive Game Analysis - Auburn
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