Zach’s Thoughts on A-Day: The Defense
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Yesterday we took a look at the performance of the Auburn offense during A-Day. Today, we’ll review how the defense performed. While Auburn’s offensive play calling may have been vanilla, the defense was even more limited, by design.
No, Gus didn’t call any real trick plays, but when Auburn’s offense needed it, he dialed up some important play calls. The defense, however, was ordered to play only base package without any blitzes.
And the story of the day was Auburn’s passing attack. However, the caveat of the offense’s success was the defense was not allowed to blitz or disguise coverages, which exposed Auburn’s secondary and severely limited the defensive line. Regardless, Auburn’s defense played exceptionally well, especially at the starting front.
It’s no secret that returning Nick Coe, Marlon Davidson, and Derrick Brown makes Auburn an automatic contender. In my opinion, these guys made Auburn’s run game even more suspect than I already thought it might be. Despite having to play extra cautiously, these three were dominant when they needed to be. The SEC Network crew made a statement that “Brown and Co. dominated when they needed,” and they did just that.
Elsewhere on defense, there were some missed tackles, but none that I thought were made by guys that Auburn will actually rely upon. If you just looked at the highlights and the stats, the secondary seemed to be torched all game. Fact is, Auburn’s receivers made some fantastic catches in terrific coverage. Two of those touchdown tosses, specifically Malik Willis to Mathew Hill and the big leaping Seth Williams TD should both have been interceptions.
Auburn’s DB’s were in position in all but one touchdown, and the Nix-to-Stove TD was the only real open TD on the day. However, even that one was a direct result of the defense’s inability to call and execute a real game plan in the red zone. In my opinion, just having the secondary be in position on those long throws, with the lack of a pass rush, shows me that it is going to be just fine.
Furthermore, Gus did show some wrinkles on offense, specifically his patented wheel route. This has been a play that is almost impossible to defend when it is set up properly. Kam Martin has been fantastic running it the past two years, and while he appeared to get open (as the announcers were quick to say), Auburn’s coverage rolled properly and would have been in position to make a pick-six if the ball had been thrown.
There was only one bust in coverage; I can’t recall who the receivers were, but the Auburn defense rolled the safety to the top receiver, leaving the seam relatively open. However, Joey Gatewood made the wrong read and threw into double coverage. This likely could have been done by pre-snap disguise to make Gatewood check to the outside.
It was difficult to see just how good Auburn’s defense is really going to be, though. Most believe the real struggle will be at linebacker where Auburn took the biggest hit following last season. There is no doubt that Deshaun Davis will be missed immensely. In his place will be K. J. Britt, who has patiently learned from Davis while waiting for his moment.
Britt easily has the biggest shoes to fill. But A-Day didn’t allow him, or really any defensive player, to showcase their ability. However, as we noted, tackles weren’t missed, and coverages were good. Most importantly, the run game was stuffed, which is what Auburn has to do to win the SEC West. The Auburn defense is going to be fine, but the question is: Can it be as good as it has been in previous years?