After strong start, Auburn's pass rush nowhere to be found
Through Auburn’s first five games, the Tigers were creating pressure through blitz packages and two very good inside pass rushers in tackles Montravius Adams and Gabe Wright.
In its last two games, suddenly, opposing quarterbacks have had all day to stand in the pocket and throw the ball.
Auburn allowed 416 passing yards to South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson Saturday night. That’s more than the Tigers allowed in total offense to its first five opponents.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson made multiple changes to the front seven during Auburn’s final bye week prior to last week’s win over South Carolina.
Elijah Daniel — who had played at defensive end — was moved inside to tackle. Brandon King was moved to defensive end in hopes of generating more speed on the edge. Star Justin Garrett was moved to the linebacking corps as the primary backup to both Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost, who have combined to generate the most impactful pass rush from their linebacker positions.
Johnson said King gave the Tigers’ front four a little bit of a spark, but “the production just isn’t there.”
South Carolina was the first pure drop-back team Auburn has faced to this point, and that really exploited the Tigers’ inability to create pressure on the quarterback. More than that, however, it was Steve Spurrier’s play-calling in the first half and South Carolina’s execution on third and fourth downs that really neutralized Auburn’s ability to rush the passer.
Thompson was accurate all night, especially on late downs. Johnson was forced to drop the back seven into coverage and often times only rush four.
After totaling 11 sacks though its first five games, Auburn has registered only one sack in its last two games. The Tigers are now 13th in the SEC in sacks.
The Tigers’ secondary held up well through the first five games with a more productive pass rush than Auburn has had in its last two games. Against Mississippi State and South Carolina, however, the defense’s inability to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks has perpetuated communication issues that have haunted the defensive secondary.
Two of Auburn’s ranked teams left — Ole Miss Alabama — are very good passing teams that are lethal in the play-action. Georgia is improving in the passing game with quarterback Hutson Mason getting more comfortable with a full compliment of weapons at receiver.
Defensive line coach Rodney Garner rotates frequently along the defensive line. Generating some form of a pass rush is too vital to the Tigers’ success moving forward that if a group of four gets into a rhythm and is generating a productive pass rush, Auburn must ride the hot hand.
Auburn better find a way to spend some time in opposing backfields. Otherwise, Bo Wallace, Hutson Mason and Blake Sims are going to have field days when the Tigers come to town.