Oct. 18, 2013
Chris Davis and Auburn's defense have made the plays in the fourth quarter this year (Anthony Hall photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn's challenge will be mighty Saturday, having to chase elusive Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel to and fro.
Gus Malzahn has a plan for that.
The Auburn coach will do what he's done all year by allowing defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and his coaches to substitute as needed to keep the defense fresh. The plan has worked so far, considering Auburn enters Saturday's Top 25 game in College Station with a 5-1 record, and has allowed fewer points in the fourth quarter than any part of the game.
"The good thing is we play a lot of different guys, so hopefully that will really help us as we chase that guy around in the fourth quarter," Malzahn said. "He's really worn down the defenses he's played. That's a really big factor in the second half."
Auburn has allowed the most points in the first quarter, a total of 36. It has allowed the fewest points in the fourth quarter, only 13 overall, and only seven in three SEC games.
That fresh approach helped Auburn beat Mississippi State 24-20 and Ole Miss 30-22.
"There's no doubt Ole Miss' defense was tired in the fourth quarter," Malzahn said. "They lost some guys and they were already a little beat up. Texas A&M has done that to everybody they've played…they got them tired. Our plan is to play a lot of people. That's kind of been our strength on defense. We've been fresh in the second half. We've played our best ball in the fourth quarter. That's going to be the challenge on Saturday. We'll definitely need to be fresh."
Auburn has used as many as 12 defensive linemen in meaningful games, probably more in last Saturday's 62-3 win over Western Carolina. It hasn't stopped there. Safety Ryan Smith hasn't started, but he's played enough to be the fifth leading tackler.
None of those guys have played Manziel, or at least not this year. Manziel has picked up where he left off after winning the Heisman Trophy last year. He's the SEC's top passer for the SEC's top offense.
A&M hasn't waited around to score for the fourth quarter. The Aggies have scored 80 points in the first quarter, 62 in the second quarter, 83 in the third quarter and 62 in the fourth quarter. The Aggies have scored 40 or more points in eight straight games.
Malzahn wants to try to counter all those points with a fresh players down the stretch, and his own offense playing a little keep-away with Manziel.
"He's not as good when he's on the sidelines," Malzahn said.
That means "we've got to get more first downs. They have a great offense. We definitely need to keep them off the field as much as we can."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine