The defensive side of the ball for the Auburn Tigers gave up nearly 25 points per game last season. They were the definition of a bend but not break defense. The ability to come up with some key stops in short yardage situations and collecting some timely turnovers were characteristics of the 2013 Auburn D. Here's a look at what Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson has returning this season.
Basically the 4-2-5 that Auburn uses (as well as South Carolina, TCU, etc) gives the defense flexibility to cover 3 and 4 WR sets while keeping a two deep safety look and can be adapted to contain the spread option run game. Where its weakness is evident comes against power running style teams. They gave up over 220 yards rushing to Arkansas, LSU, and Alabama last season.
Key losses of Dee Ford, and Carl Lawson at defensive end. Ford and Lawson combined for 14 out of 31.5 sacks in 2013.
Their strength is in linebackers and secondary. They lost Middle LB Jake Holland, and cornerback Chris Davis. Holland was exposed in the game last year in Fayetteville, but his replacement Cassanova McKinzy has better overall skills. What will be interesting to see is whether McKinzy can get the Auburn D lined up and make the right calls.
The Tigers have a shortage of defensive ends and an overabundance of DTs. Reports from the Auburn camp have included the idea of moving DTs to DEs. Gabe Wright has the quickness to play out there in passing situations or in their 4 defensive tackle "Rhino" package.
"Do I believe I'll be starting at end against Arkansas? No, I don't, but does it make sense to do it? Yeah, the fact that I know the plays and won't have to be working it in the fall," Wright said. "I feel like I’ll play inside, but when we do have teams like Arkansas, Alabama, LSU – this is not what coaches told me – I just believe it would be a factor. You got two, three-tight end sets, why not be able to put a D-tackle out there?" Gabe Wright Auburn DT
Game Plan vs Arkansas
Last fall Auburn sold out on the run (as most teams vs Arkansas) dropping 8 in the box on most first downs, and bringing pressure with the free safety.
Cover 3 with a FS rotating to middle of the field.
Jermaine Whitehead returns at free safety and juco transfer Derrick Moncrief will most likely be the other safety. Expect to see Moncrief creeping down in the box a lot early.
Ellis Johnson used Dee Ford as a stand up DE against Arkansas in 2013, and may use McKinzy in same role. It will be interesting to see if Auburn is able to get any pass rush from the front four without bringing extra help on 3rd downs.
Passing game: The 4-2-5 allowed Auburn to play tight man cover 1 on 3rd downs. This tight pressure led to Hunter Henry only catching 1 ball (a second catch was called back for a penalty). Look for more of the same with AJ Derby drawing press coverage with no free releases. CB Jonathon Mincy had 9 tackles against Arkansas which was a season high, so losing him to suspension - however long that lasts - will hurt the Tiger secondary. If Arkansas can prove that they can throw the ball downfield then they will force Auburn to move into a softer coverage.
Last year Auburn came up with some key goal line and short yardage stops vs Arkansas and Alabama, and created timely turnovers. This defense was built to play against 3 and 4 WR sets, not 12, 21, or 22 personnel with multiple TEs. They should be solid in the secondary and have improved athleticism at LB.
The game plan to stop Arkansas will most likely be the same as 2013, load up on stopping the run, and attempt to create turnovers. Arkansas moved the ball with success in Fayetteville last year and should see the same results. Some play action passes to AJ Derby, Drew Morgan or Keon Hatcher early after some big runs up the middle would really open up the Arkansas offense. The first game is in sight, cant wait!
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