Nov. 10, 2013
Auburn defenders Jonathan Ford (23), JaViere Mitchell (16) and Kenny Flowers surround Tennessee's Devrin Young (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — You were watching Auburn's Nick Marshall run for 214 yards and Tre Mason go over 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight season.
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson saw more in Saturday's 55-23 win over Tennessee. He saw the Tigers allow one offensive touchdown in the Volunteers' 12 possessions. He saw the Vols being held to 111 yards in the second half.
"That's a pretty good day," Johnson said Sunday night.
But Johnson figures things will be tougher this Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn won't be facing a freshman making just his second start, as the Tigers did when they tracked down Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs. The Tigers will be facing the most veteran of SEC quarterbacks in Georgia's Aaron Murray.
"That's going to be the issue," Johnson said. "We cannot give up the kind of rushing yards we did Saturday and expect that to hold up with the quarterback we're playing."
The quarterback Auburn is playing has impressive stats against the Tigers. Murray has thrown 10 touchdown passes without an interception, and is 47-of-70 passing for 705 yards in three meetings against Auburn.
"You could tell he was a winner and he was a playmaker in his early years," Johnson said.
Now, Johnson said, he's doing "things that a veteran, if you will, knows how to do."
"He's doing a really fine job of extending plays and causing some problems."
Problems for opponents. Murray owns SEC records for passing yards, total offense and now touchdown passes.
Auburn is 10th in the SEC in total defense, but, where it counts, the Tigers are fourth in the league in scoring defense. Auburn is especially tough near the goal line where it is ranked second in the SEC in red zone defense.
Johnson said his defense is "playing well under pressure situations."
"They're keeping people out of the end zone, but I think we can play a heck of a lot better defensively, and I think we're going to have to."
Georgia and Alabama await to close out a regular season that has taken a turn for the better since the Tigers lost to LSU 35-21 on Sept. 21. Auburn has won six consecutive games since thanks to an offense that has taken off, so much so that the Tigers had three scoring drives of 37 seconds or less against Tennessee.
That put Auburn's defenders right back on the field.
"Anytime you're scoring quickly, to me, that's not a problem," Johnson said.
Johnson said he doesn't mind Auburn scoring quickly, even though it occasionally cuts into time to make adjustments for an opponent's new wrinkles.
But, he said, "conditioning has not been a problem. We've had good substitution rotation.
"Any time we have a quick turnaround like that, we try to rotate our guys at most positions. So it's no problem at all. The short possession where you don't score and give good field position, that's when you've really got to step it up defensively and make big plays."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine