Oct. 1, 2013
Auburn defense closes in on Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott (Anthony Hall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – In four games, Auburn’s defense has given up 11 touchdown drives. And there is a common thread that runs through all but one of them. It is what defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson calls “trash yardage.”
Ten touchdown drives against Auburn’s defense have included at least one play of 20 yards or longer. Two of those drives have included two plays of 20 yards or longer. Seven times the Tigers have given up those big plays and not allowed any points. One led to a field goal. The only touchdown drive that didn’t include a big play covered 10 yards after Steven Clark fumbled a snap in punt formation against LSU.
"We just still continue to have these five or six plays that are just ugly," Johnson said. "Not to take anything from the opponent, but it’s more self-inflicted and we've just got to get them cleaned up."
The Tigers have had significantly more success holding down big plays in the second halves than the first. Thus, they have given up just two second-half touchdowns all season.
With an open date last Saturday, Johnson focused hard on reducing the big plays during last week’s practice. The next test will come Saturday when No. 24 Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1) and Auburn (3-1, 1-1) meet at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff time is set for 6 p.m. on ESPNU.
“The biggest thing we’ve tried to work on,” Johnson said, “is cleaning up some of the mistakes we’ve been making that is giving up this long yardage – run fits, coverage checks, things of that nature.”
Ole Miss has 13 plays of 20 or more yards through four games.
Big plays cost Auburn dearly at LSU in a 35-21 loss, its first of the season. Running back Jeremy Hill ran 49 yards for a touchdown on LSU’s first possession. He ran 54 yards to set up a touchdown early in the second quarter. LSU led 21-0 at halftime.
A 45-yard pass from quarterback Zach Mettenberger on a busted coverage set up an LSU touchdown. Mettenberger hit Jarvis Landry with a 32-yard touchdown pass. Auburn dominated the second half but couldn’t dig its way out of the early hole.
“You make somebody punt six times, get a fourth-down stop and you get two takeaways, you say that’s a pretty good day,” Johnson said. “But they got five touchdowns because of the explosive plays instead of two touchdowns and a field goal or two or something of that nature.”
Auburn is 10th in the SEC in total defense, giving up 439.5 yards per game in Gus Malzahn’s first season as head coach. Yet the Tigers are sixth in scoring defense and just one point out of fourth. In fourth quarters, they have outscored their opponents 27-7.
“It goes back to the trash yardage,” Johnson said. “We are making some dumb mistakes, but then our guys are really playing well in some pressure situations. The fourth-quarter thing, credit Coach Malzahn. I think he has put some confidence and an attitude in these guys that they are determined they are going to play through adversity and finish games.”
Following are the plays of 20-plus yards given up by Auburn’s defense:
Connor Halliday 29-yard pass to Dominique Williams. Leads to a touchdown.
Jeremiah Laufasa 20-yard run. Leads to a touchdown.
Halliday 53-yard pass to Bobby Ratliff. Leads to a touchdown.
Teondray Caldwell 24-yard run. Auburn gets stop.
Adam Kennedy 40-yard pass to J.D. McKissic. Auburn gets stop.
Adam Kennedy 28-yard run. Leads to field goal.
Kennedy 30-yard pass to David Oku. Auburn gets stop.
Kennedy 25-yard pass to Kenneth Rains. Auburn gets stop.
Kennedy 27-yard run. Last play of game.
Dak Prescott 61-yard pass to Robert Johnson. Leads to touchdown,
Prescott 34-yard pass to Jameon Lewis. Leads to touchdown.
Prescott 20-yard pass to Lewis and Prescott 47-yard run. Leads to touchdown.
Jeremy Hill 49-yard touchdown run.
Zach Mettenberger 27 pass to Jarvis Landry. Auburn gets stop.
Hill 54-yard run. Leads to touchdown.
Mettenberger 45-yard pass to Travis Dickson. Leads to touchdown.
Mettenberger 22-yard pass to Odell Beckham and Mettenberger 32-yard touchdown pass to Landry.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: