We’re 10 games into the 2017 season, and it’s become increasingly evident that Auburn Tigers has a pretty good defense.
Coming into the year, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was needing to find suitable replacements for Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams, two of the SEC’s most respected defensive linemen.
To say they succeeded would be an understatement.
Lawson led the Tigers in sacks with 9 in 2016, fourth in the conference.
The replacement — or maybe we should start referring to him as the upgrade — at the Buck linebacker position is Jeff Holland, a junior who recorded two sacks in a rotational role behind Lawson last year.
This season has been a different story for the 4-star edge rusher from Jacksonville, Fla.
Holland has tied Lawson’s sack total from last season, but remember, we’re only 10 games into 2017. Those 9 sacks top the SEC, and they’re good enough to tie him at 7th nationally.
Here he is showing off impressive bend to get to Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm:
Jeff Holland with the olimpico sack. pic.twitter.com/3fTvn32k3R
— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) November 13, 2017
It’s been a special season for Holland, and he has certainly been one of the biggest contributors to Auburn’s impressive defense.
He isn’t alone on that defensive line, either.
The second-year duo of Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown have helped make life miserable for opposing offenses, and that’s just scratching the surface of the Tigers’ front seven.
The defense has playmakers at every level.
We could talk about the linebackers, and how between Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams and a now healthy Tre’ Williams, the Tigers have a group of off-ball ‘backers who can make plays against the run or pass.
Tre’ Williams improvement as he has gotten healthier cannot be undervalued. Here he is playing a pivotal part in limiting the success of Georgia’s run game:
Tre’ Williams being healthy has been huge for Auburn’s defense. He made multiple plays like these on Saturday. pic.twitter.com/Jy9XC8BwDd
— Clint Lamb (@ClintRLamb) November 14, 2017
If that doesn’t suffice, we could turn to the secondary, which includes a balanced combination of skill-sets as well.
Tray Matthews, a senior safety with an impressive physique, provides the group with a physical presence capable of making big hits and sound tackles. Carlton Davis, a 6-1, 203-pound cornerback, has the size, strength and ball-skills necessary to be effective against an opposing offense’s top receiver.
The list goes on, and there are several others who help make up nation’s No. 9 ranked defense.
Anytime you can stake claim to a top 10 defense in college football, it’s something to be proud of, but is No. 9 doing Auburn justice?
Let’s take the Tigers’ most recent game, for example.
This past Saturday, Georgia entered with a top 10 rushing offense — No. 8 to be exact. They now sit at No. 10, averaging 256 yards per game on the ground.
Auburn held them to 46 yards (1.4-yard average). To put that into perspective, AL.com pointed out that was the least amount of yards allowed against a Top 10 rushing offense of a Power 5 team since 2009.
That not dominant enough for you?
How about Auburn’s pass rush churning out four sacks and six QB hurries against an offensive line that had only allowed an average of one sack per game coming into the contest?
To put it simply, it was a dominant performance from a defense that continues to get better each and every week.
Is it possible that the Tigers now have the best defense in the SEC?
Well, Georgia’s defense was somewhat exposed after giving up 488 yards and 40 points to the Tigers, and Alabama — while still considered the top dog in the conference — is dealing with a slew of injuries that led to some success running the football for Mississippi State.
Everyone else’s defense seems to be heading in the wrong direction, while Auburn’s is heading in the right direction.
We still can’t definitively say that Auburn boasts the conference’s top defense, but the game against Alabama — which includes the conference’s top ranked rushing team and the country’s No. 19 ranked total offense — on Nov. 25 will go a long way in bringing clarity to the situation.