Entering the 2012 season, Auburn’s defense was counted on to be the team’s strong unit. But three games in, and expectations have yet to be met.
The Tigers head into Saturday’s game against LSU with a disappointing 1-2 record, and while a night game at Jordan-Hare Stadium is always a challenge for visitors, the #2 team in the nation will enter as nearly a three touchdown favorite.
Auburn’s defense ranks 13th in the SEC in total defense, allowing 442 ypg, with 217 coming on the ground. Paltry numbers, to be sure, but the defensive end position could be a catalyst from which the entire unit begins a transformation.
Juniors Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford are already making names for themselves as top tier pass rushers, and if they continue to evolve, could easily become two of the best defensive players in the league.
Lemonier leads the team with three sacks, and has shown flashes of being a run-stuffer as well. The 6’4” 250lb speed rusher will have to focus on stopping the run Saturday if the Tigers want to compete against the deepest RB core in America. LSU is averaging 269.33 rushing yards per game , and though the Bengal Tigers haven’t exactly played world beaters, it’s easy to see that there’s plenty of talent to throw at a defense that has yet to find its identity.
A hefty bit of that talent comes from the LSU offensive line, which averages 322.8 pounds, and will prove to be Lemonier and Ford’s toughest challenge to date.
Each bookend has seven solo tackles on the year, and they will need to nearly double that number in order to be effective Saturday. Lemonier boasts 15 career sacks, and Ford is known for having an endless motor, but the duo will have to do the dirty work of stopping the run for Auburn to have any chance.
Last year’s lopsided affair came with a few side notes, one of which the Auburn defense, Lemonier included, has not received very well.
LSU fullback J.C. Copeland was quoted as saying that the Auburn D gave up, stating, “After the first couple of hits, everybody (AU’s defense) was just backing up,” Copeland said. They didn’t want to hit at all. Before I got to them, they just fell down and just laid on the ground.”
Lemonier answered the bulletin board material with a reserved, yet poignant response: “It’s a huge disrespect to us and what we stand for,” Lemonier said. “We’re just going to use that as momentum, put fire in, and just use it as motivation for us.”
Auburn’s defense shouldn’t need any extra motivation when a divisional rival and one of the best teams in the nation comes calling, but being called soft will always wake an SEC defense up, no matter how disappointing its season thus far.
For Ford, it’s become a matter of pride, and he sees the Tigers defense improving. The 6’2”, 246lb junior has recorded two sacks, and is confident that Auburn will be ready Saturday.
“From week one to three, we’re getting better,” Ford said. “If I’m the player that I say am, I’m going to play on Saturday physical and, on third down, I’m still going to be that presence.”
Auburn’s chances depend on the battle in the trenches, where Lemonier and Ford dwell, and the two juniors must make their presence known early and often. The two will be challenged to stay near the line of scrimmage, instead of flying up the field on their typical speed rush style, but should be up to the task.
Fans will definitely hear their names Saturday night. Whether they can do enough to make a big play or create a critical turnover remains to be seen, and those types of plays will have to be made if Auburn wants a chance to take down one of the best teams in America.