Better or worse? Previewing Auburn's defense in 2019
Editor’s note: Last week we previewed every SEC East defense. This is the 3rd in a series on the West. Coming Thursday: LSU.
Defense at times last season kept Auburn’s season from spiraling into a complete tailspin.
The Tigers ranked fourth in the SEC in scoring defense last season, allowing 19.2 points per game. Though they gave up yardage in bunches — 355.4 yards per game, 8th in the SEC — the Tigers were able to keep the opposition out of the end zone enough to salvage an 8-win season, including an impressive 63-14 Music City Bowl victory over Purdue.
But how will the Auburn defense fare in 2019 with the graduation of three linebackers and another hole to fill in the trenches? Some of those questions started getting answered over the spring, but there’s still a lot of work to do if the Tigers hope to match or exceed last year’s success.
Here’s a very early breakdown of the 2019 Auburn defense and how it compares, better or worse, to last year’s.
Pressuring the QB: Better
The Tigers did a pretty good job of attacking opposing QBs last season, ranking 3rd in the SEC (tied with Kentucky) with an average of 2.92 sacks per game. Only Mississippi State and Alabama recorded more (3.0).
Auburn’s top two sack artists, sophomore Nick Coe (7.0), and junior Derrick Brown (4.5) return, as do sophomore Big Kat Bryant and junior Marlon Davidson, both with 3.5 sacks last season.
That group figures to only get better this season, as the Tigers appear once again to possess some of the top pass rushers in the conference with Coe leading the way.
Run defense: Better
Auburn ranked 6th among SEC teams against the run, allowing an average of 135.92 yards per game. That’s not bad, but the Tigers need to shore that up a bit if they hope to contend in 2019.
By all indications, they should. The Tigers return Coe, Brown and Davidson along the defense line. That’s as good a trio as any. Tyrone Truesdell could fit in at the other slot along the line to fill out one of the most formidable fronts in the SEC, if not the country.
The big question mark remains at linebacker. Chandler Wooten and KJ Britt must step up to lead the unit. Zakoby McClain and 5-star incoming freshman Owen Pappoe, as well as redshirt freshman Michael Harris could also be asked to play significant roles as well.
The length of time it takes for this group to jell will determine just how good the Auburn run defense will be in 2019.
Passing defense: Better
While the Tigers again look to put pressure on QBs, as illustrated above, the secondary should be a strength, especially at safety.
Auburn ranked 7th in the SEC against the pass last season, allowing 219.5 yards per game. That’s too many for a team with championship aspirations in the nation’s toughest division.
Safeties Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas return to lead the way, but the Tigers’ secondary is filled with experience. Christian Tutt and Noah Igbinoghene can now be called veterans in a secondary that also includes redshirt senior Javaris Davis.
This should be an area of strength and in turn improve on the numbers posted last season.
Special teams: Better
The Tigers were very good last season. They ranked 3rd in the SEC in kick and punt return yardage allowed. In addition, Auburn ranked 4th in the conference in punting.
To improve upon that is going to take some doing. Auburn allowed an average of just 3.36 yards per punt return and 23.9 on kick returns a year ago. Add to that, punter Arryn Siposs returns after averaging 44.21 yards on 56 punts last season.
It’s a tough call to make considering how well the Tigers were last season, but we’re going to project a slight improvement based on experience.
Hopefully this isn’t just pumping sunshine, but it certainly looks like the Tigers could very well be on their way to improving in all aspects of defensive play in 2019. There’s experience in nearly every unit and young talent behind it.
The group of linebackers, it appears, could determine whether Auburn’s defense reaches elite status, or struggles somewhat in gaining valuable playing experience in between some of the top athletes in the SEC.