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Auburn's defense on rise heading to Mississippi State
Oct. 6, 2014

Montravius Adams and Auburn's defense made it a long night for LSU's Brandon Harris

By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala.  Yes, we live in a brave new world in which Southeastern Conference teams have already combined for 32,995 yards and are averaging 6.28 yards per snap this season.
Auburn's defense has not only survived, but ranks as one of the best in the league  and the nation.
The Tigers are fourth in the SEC and 14th nationally in total defense and second in the SEC and ninth nationally in scoring defense. 
And, yes, the Tigers will put those rankings to the test at Mississippi State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in a heavyweight battle between the No. 2 Tigers and the No. 3 Bulldogs. Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson says it will be the toughest test yet because of Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. 
"Right now, he's as good a dual-threat quarterback as there is in America," Johnson said.
Auburn finished ranked 87th in defense last season. Auburn has improved so because it is allowing barely 100 yards per game rushing, a number that inched up slightly in last weekend's 41-7 victory over LSU.
Johnson says the turnaround can be traced to his players becoming more familiar in the second year of his Auburn tenure.
"This time last year, we were having 25, 28, 30 missed assignments every game. Now, we come out of a game with eight, maybe 10, and that's a drastic number when you don't have but about 65 to 70 plays," Johnson said. 
"We just have a little different complexion. Last year, we were a little bit faster, we were better on third-down pass rush. We had a little more age in the secondary. But in the box against the run, we weren't very physical, we weren't very strong and we were playing some things incorrectly. At this time last year, we were very inconsistent. 
"Statistically, if you just pull out the play-by-play and look at the drive charts and all that, it's really impressive. But we've got a lot of things that we're not doing as well as we should."
Auburn had its way with LSU freshman quarterback Brandon Harris, who was making his first college start. The challenge is different with Prescott, who is second in the SEC in total offense and third in touchdowns.
"This week, we're going to be playing a quarterback who may be the best in the country at running the offense he runs," Johnson said. "I'm certainly not taking anything away from the effort and the accomplishment of our players. I think we did a great job and I'm really proud of them. But the test is going to get a lot tougher."
Auburn knows Prescott. He made his first start last year in Jordan-Hare Stadium. That caught Auburn off guard, and the Tigers needed a last-minute drive, as scoring with 10 seconds left, to beat State 24-20.
"We didn't have a really good plan, and when we tried to adjust it on the fly, they still did an excellent job," Johnson said. "His runs last year  designed runs  were really the biggest problem we had in that game. So we obviously know what he's capable of doing."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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