Auburn football: Tigers' defense shows it can be dominant
The final score, 28-20 in favor of Auburn, made Saturday’s game at Texas A&M look closer than it was.
But there was indisputable fact that came out of Kyle Field on Saturday: Auburn’s defense is fast and elite.
Derrick Brown and company made life difficult for quarterback Kellen Mond and the Aggies, continually getting into the backfield to pressure the A&M passer and basically shutting down any rushing attack that the Aggies tried to get going.
This was the Tigers defense that many were expecting during the preseason. Despite spending most of the game without defensive end Marlon Davidson, who went to the locker room in the first quarter with an undisclosed injury, the Tigers’ front four continued to rattle the Aggies.
This, of course, was helped by Auburn’s secondary and linebacker corps, including freshman Owen Pappoe, who have made a leap.
Auburn fans might have thought they were watching the wrong game (and maybe team) when the Tigers continued to wrap up on tackles out in the open field. This was a big difference between the Aggies gaining 3 yards vs. 15 yards, and for the most part, coordinator Kevin Steele’s defense was up to the test. Noah Igbinoghene and the crew in the secondary had an excellent game, making sure tackles — even a few for a loss.
The Tigers forced three field goal attempts (the Aggies missed two) nd didn’t let Mond do his thing outside of the pocket. There were no lanes for Aggie running backs upfield (Texas A&M finished with 56 rushing yards) and the Tigers made the Aggies one dimensional. That didn’t bode well for Jimbo Fisher’s offense.
This is a defense that can do major things down the road. With tests against Mississippi State and Florida — both teams that love to run the spread offense — coming up, Auburn once again has a chance to prove itself as the top of the class. Steele and his players will definitely want to prove something against Mississippi State, who rushed for 349 yards in a 23-9 win over Auburn last season in Starkville.
Yet it is time to expect the absolute best out of this defense, despite the two fourth-quarter TDs by A&M on Saturday. Brown, Davidson and the rest of the guys who could have gone on to the NFL returned for a reason: To be great.
They took the first step in College Station.
Let’s take a quick look at the Auburn offense and how each position graded out.
Bo Nix wasn’t asked to do much; he completed 12-of-2o passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. He did, however, prove himself to be a force (12 carries, 38 yards) on the ground. That will help him in the long run, causing confusion among defenses.
Joey Gatewood did what he was expected to do, and more. He found John Shenker wide open in the end zone for a TD pass to put the Tigers up 14-0 in the first quarter.
When it came time for the Tigers to put the game away, Boobie Whitlow showed why he is the No. 1 back on the depth chart. In the meantime, it seemed like most of the rushing attack came from either Anthony Schwartz or Eli Stove — both wide receivers — and that is part of coach Gus Malzahn’s game plan. It worked perfectly and set up the grounding attack in the fourth quarter, which helped put the game away.
As mentioned Schwartz and Stove provided energy in the rushing game, but the most important pass of the day might have been Nix finding Seth Williams for the touchdown to put the Tigers up 21-3 in the third quarter after an Aggies turnover. We still need to see improvement from this group, but they seem to be on the right track.
After all the noise about them being a weak link, the front five protected Nix and paved the way for 193 yards on the ground, the most important coming early in the fourth quarter when the Aggies had jumped back into the game at 21-10. The Tigers rushed behind their line for the put-away score and, for the first time this season, there was hope with this offensive line.
For the first time all season, the Tigers didn’t need Anders Carlson to put three points on the board. While that is good news, the better news is that Auburn’s special teams was phenomenal all the way around. Christian Tutt returned a punt for 30 yards to set up the second TD of the game and the Tigers didn’t allow much on punt return yardage. Overall, a great effort.