Oct. 27, 2013
Freshman defensive end Elijah Daniel leads Auburn with nine quarterback hurries (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – As Auburn’s season began, first-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson fretted about where the pass rush would come from.
Senior Dee Ford, the team’s most accomplished pass rusher, was out with an injury. True freshmen with the kinds of skills Johnson wanted weren’t ready to play. It was in a 30-22 victory over Ole Miss that it all changed. Tiger defenders sacked Ole Miss quarterbacks six times.
Saturday, No. 8 Auburn (7-1, 3-1) goes on the road to play Arkansas (3-5, 0-3). The Tigers blew out Florida Atlantic 45-10 last Saturday for their fourth consecutive victory and climbed into the top 10 for the first time since 2010.
An improved pass rush, Johnson said, has helped make that possible.
“It’s improved a lot, mainly because the young players that brought that natural ability are starting to get a grasp of the system and we can play them more frequently,” Johnson said Sunday. “We don’t have to worry about putting them in there in just little situational things.
“The other thing is Dee. He missed the first two or three games and we got him back. The rust is off, and the last two or three weeks I think he has played extremely well. I think you also have to credit Craig (Sanders) and LaDarius (Owens) who had their opportunities after not playing much for two or three years. I think they have really improved and played very solid for us.”
Ford leads the team in sacks with six. Three defensive linemen – tackle Gabe Wright, true freshman end Carl Lawson and Owens have two apiece. True freshman Elijah Daniel leads the team in quarterback hurries with nine. Eight players have five quarterback hurries or more.
In a 45-41 victory at then-No. 7 Texas A&M, Ford sacked quarterback Johnny Manziel twice in the final three plays to lock up the most significant victory of Auburn’s season.
Arkansas, loser of five straight, has been anything but a passing team, averaging just 146.6 yards per game. The Razorbacks run for 209.9 yards per game.
It will be a departure from spread teams Auburn has played in recent weeks, but Johnson said that doesn’t diminish the importance of a strong pass rush.
“Pass rush is still going to be hugely important in this game,” Johnson said. “They’ll have more tight ends in the formation, and we’ll have to be more physical at the point of attack because of that. But our guys have seen that before. LSU about is as close to Arkansas’ identity.
“The biggest thing that hurt us there was we just got out of position. We left some gaps open and they did a good job of hitting them. It was more X’s and O’s and not being in the right place at the right time than it was not being physical.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: