Dec. 24, 2013
Jake Holland (5), Robenson Therezie (27), Dee Ford (30) swarm Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon (Anthony Hall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – On their face, the numbers don’t add up for Auburn’s defense. Statistically, Florida State’s offense will have a seeming advantage in every category when the No. 2 Tigers (12-1) and No. 1 Seminoles (13-0) play for the BCS national championship on Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl.
In scoring defense, Auburn is sixth in the Southeastern Conference at 24 points per game. Florida State averages 53 points per game.
In rushing defense, Auburn is No. 10 in the SEC at 163.2 yards per game. Florida State averages 207.4 yards per game.
In pass defense, Auburn is last in the SEC at 260.2 yards per game. Florida State averages 322 yards per game.
In total defense, Auburn is No. 12 in the SEC at 423.5 yards per game. Florida State averages 529.4 yards per game.
Auburn coaches and players are all too aware of those numbers, but they’re also aware that they’ve faced similar situations week after week and have won nine consecutive games and the SEC championship.
The Tigers are No. 2 in the SEC in red zone defense, No. 3 in third-down conversions defense and No. 3 in sacks. In fourth quarters, the Tigers have given up 58 points, an average of 4.46 points per game.
“The bottom line is we’ve gotten some takeaways at critical times, we’ve made some fourth-down stops, we’ve been good in the red zone and we’ve been good on third down for the most part,” Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. “That’s why we’ve kept people off the board to some degree.
“The other factor is we run the ball well and we have a good kicking game. Those are the things that make it difficult for an opposing offense to get points.”
The Tigers have done it by making big plays when they matter most in big games.
* Washington State faced first-and-goal at the Auburn 7, trailing 31-24 late in the fourth quarter. Robenson Therezie’s interception in the end zone with 4:16 left killed the threat and Auburn held on to win.
* Against Mississippi State, Auburn forced five consecutive punts in the fourth quarter, keeping it close enough for Nick Marshall to win lead an 88-yard drive to win 24-20.
* Auburn sacked Ole Miss quarterbacks six times, including twice in the final three minutes of a 30-22 victory over Ole Miss. Auburn’s first touchdown came on Therezie’s 76-yard interception return.
* In a 45-41 win at Texas A&M, Dee Ford sacked quarterback Johnny Manziel twice in the final three plays after the Aggies reached the Auburn 18.
* Georgia, trailing 43-38, had one play from the Auburn 20-yard line as time ran out. Ford’s withering hit on quarterback Aaron Murray forced an incomplete pass.
* Alabama led 28-21 and faced fourth-and-1 at the Auburn 13. T.J. Yeldon was stopped short by freshman defensive end Carl Lawson with 5:34 left in the game. Auburn went on to win 34-28.
“We’ve given up way too many yards to say we’ve played extremely well this year,” Johnson said, “but we have played extremely well in some critical situations.”
Ford has been the defensive leader in an All-SEC season that started two games late because of injury. He has 12.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries. Senior cornerback Chris Davis leads the team in tackles with 69 and has broken up 14 passes. Fellow cornerback Jonathon Mincy has broken up 12 passes.
They’ll all face a different kind of challenge against the Seminoles and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston.
Winston has passed for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has caught 14 touchdown passes. Running back Devonta Freeman has 943 yards and 13 touchdowns. Karlos Williams has 705 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.
The key, Mincy says, is for the Tigers to stop giving up the big plays that have plagued them.
“Coach Johnson breaks that down to us,” Mincy said. “We’re going to take pride in that. We’re going to have to stop giving up big, explosive plays. Nobody has really been able to drive the ball on us. We pride ourselves on it and we’re going to get it corrected.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: