How quickly can Muschamp's defense catch Malzahn's offense?
When Will Muschamp hopped on the Gus Bus to form GusChamp, giving Auburn an SEC equivalent to Voltron, the rest of the SEC had good reason to be highly concerned. Pairing one of the best offensive coaches in the country with one of the most vaunted defensive minds gives Auburn the makings of a juggernaut.
The question is how quickly Muschamp will be able to bring Auburn’s defense up to par with the offensive machine Malzahn has created. Auburn finished 12th in total defense in its 2013 SEC championship season, followed by finishing in ninth last fall. Compare that to an offense that finished second to Texas A&M both seasons and the gap is noticeably large.
Malzahn certainly isn’t going to make it an easy task for Muschamp’s side of the ball to catch up, not with the talent Auburn has on hand. Jeremy Johnson, named the starting quarterback earlier this week after a (not really) competition this spring, has his sights set on some lofty goals in his first season running the show. With a strong array of offensive weapons around him, there’s no reason to think Auburn will take any kind of step back after losing Nick Marshall.
The offense, in many ways, got the better of the defense in the Tigers’ spring game. Johnson lit the first-string defense up for 252 passing yards, while sophomore running back Roc Thomas gashed Muschamp’s unit for 69 yards, including a long touchdown run. The final score of the A-Day game was 24-14, with the first team offense’s “Team Auburn” taking the victory.
The caveat, of course, is that the Tigers first-string defense was without two of its most valuable players, defensive end Carl Lawson and cornerback Jonathan Jones. Lawson is expected to be a major contributor coming back from an ACL injury last year, while Jones emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC in 2014. Both will be cornerstones of the defense this fall.
There were positives, too. The defensive line played well even without Lawson, and between the two teams registered six sacks on the day. That’s a major development for a defense that had little luck getting to the quarterback last year, and it’s something that was a focus throughout spring. From 2008-10, the last time Muschamp was a DC, his Texas Longhorns defenses rang up the most sacks in the nation, a good sign of things to come for the Tigers.
Meanwhile, linebackers both Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy have improved from last year, when they both struggled in pass defense.
Muschamp has the tools to make Auburn’s defense much more competitive in 2015 than it was in 2014. Montravius Adams and DaVonte Lambert return to help anchor the defensive line, while top recruit Byron Cowart arrives this fall to supplement the pass rush. Muschamp’s defenses build from the defensive line out, and the Tigers have more than enough there to leap up the SEC’s rankings.
Given Muschamp’s history, it’s hard to imagine Auburn ranking anywhere near the bottom of the SEC again. With the tools he has to work with, don’t be surprised if Auburn’s defense climbs up closer to the offense’s lofty perch near the top of the conference.