Defense wins championships. Football fans have heard that since birth. On Saturday, the country saw it with their own eyes. Auburn’s defensive performance against sixth-ranked LSU was one for the ages. The Tiger defense stood tall when it mattered most, the fourth quarter.
How good is Auburn’s defense? Consider this: Auburn has not allowed a touchdown since the third quarter of its opener against Washington State – a span of nine straight quarters. The Tigers rank fourth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 5.7 points per game. Auburn has held 21 of its last 28 opponents, including all three this season, to fewer than 20 points dating back to the start of the 2004 season.
How have the Tigers done it? With depth and lots of it. Saturday’s win against LSU was one of the most physical games in recent memory. The Auburn secondary lost starters, Jonathan Wilhite and Pat Lee early. For most other teams this would prove fatal – especially against the LSU offense.
How did Auburn respond? They reloaded. During LSU’s last two drives of the fourth quarter, Auburn had three red-shirt freshmen in the defensive secondary. Walter McFadden, Aairon Savage and Jerraud Powers all were staring down LSU quarterback JeMarcus Russell as he tried to get into the end-zone. The results? A 7-3 Auburn win. That my friends is what you call depth. That’s what you call Auburn defense in the fourth quarter.
What else makes Auburn defense so hard to handle in the fourth quarter? Pressure. When the Tigers hired defensive coordinator Will Muschamp away from the Miami Dolphins this season, he promised that Auburn fans would see pressure applied. Whether in Miami or as defensive coordinator at LSU, Muschamp has always been one to blitz.
And so far the results have been impressive. Auburn currently ranks tied for 15th in the country in sacks, totaling 10 through the first three games.
Add depth and speed to experience and Auburn’s defense may be the best in the country. This year, Muschamp moved All-SEC safety Will Herring to linebacker. The results have been incredible. Herring’s jaw-dropping hits on the LSU offense Saturday were difference makers.
Couple him with fellow linebacker Karibi Dede and the Tigers have one of the quickest linebacking units in the conference. Did I mention that two other starters at linebacker, Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon did not play Saturday because of suspension? Can you say depth?
And let’s not leave out David Irons. Often overshadowed by his brother, Kenny, David has made a name for himself as one of the top corners in the country. He covers wide receivers like a glove and gives the rest of the defense an extra second to apply pressure.
When it comes to fourth quarter football, it’s hard to argue that Auburn’s defense isn’t the best in all of the land. It might just carry them to Arizona in early January.