WSU Football: Scouting Auburn – Defense


Sep 22, 2012; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive back Jermaine Whitehead (9) tackles LSU Tigers running back Spencer Ware (11) during the first half at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday All Coug’d Up featured a look at Washington State’s first opponent of the 2013 season, Auburn, by focusing on offense. Let’s take a look at what the Cougs can expect from the other side of the ball for the Tigers. If you missed Josh Davis’ analysis, click here to check it out.

A quick overview of the Auburn defense heading into their home opener this coming Saturday against Washington State reveals basic issues shared by both squads.

Both the Tigers and Cougs better have flushed the nightmare season of 2012 from their collective memories.

Neither school sustained an outstanding defensive effort from game to game last year.

For that matter, neither school put together four quarters of solid D in a game. In the case of Auburn, the month of October turned the course of their defense in the wrong direction when the unit surrendered nearly 1900 yards to their opponents offense in just four games.

If college football games are won with defense, does Auburn appear to have what it takes heading into their first game week practice of 2013?

WSU Coach Mike Leach and his staff may have caught a program that produced a National Championship as recent as 2010 at the right time.

Auburn has a new head coach in Gus Malzahn. There’s talk of a new attitude around the program mirroring the days of glory for the Tigers. With a change in leadership, Tiger faithful anticipate great things from their football team.

Until they deliver on the field of play, Auburn is a work in progress.

Sep 1, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd (10) looks to pass while being chased by Auburn Tigers defensive lineman Gabe Wright (90) during the first half of the Chick-fil-A kickoff game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

Up front, the Tigers have a tremendous combination of size and experience across the defensive line.

The guy to watch in the trenches is junior Gabe Wright. At 6-3 295, Wright can be a force to be reckoned with stopping the run and has the quickness to peel off blocks to apply pressure in an opponent’s backfield.

Since WSU passes first, second and occasionally considers rushing the ball as a last resort, for Auburn to be successful they will have to harass junior quarterback Connor Halliday. And they are going to have to do so without the services of their best pass rusher, senior Dee Ford lining up at defensive end.

Cougar fans might not have seen the favored defensive scheme employed by Auburn, a 4-2-5. The key to this strategic alignment is a “star hybrid” guy who plays effectively like a safety in front of the D-backs. Junior Justin Garrett, 6-1 225, fills that role and earned praise from the coaching staff during spring camp.

October 13, 2012; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace (14) gets past Auburn Tigers linebackers Jake Holland (5) and Daren Bates (25) during their game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook – USA TODAY Sports

Senior Jake Holland, 6-1 240 is the only linebacker with a wealth of experience though the senior has been hampered by nagging injuries the past two seasons.

Where Cougar fans may be thrilled is with the matchup between their receivers and the Auburn secondary.

Much has been made of the fact the Auburn secondary managed just one interception last season. The primary reason for opposing quarterbacks experiencing no fear when looking to throw the ball was the lack of experience among the Tiger D-backs last season. That was then. This is now.

Going into the season opener, Auburn depth in their secondary is akin to the Cougars depth across the offensive line in 2012.

The Tigers are very thin at cornerback and safety.

Arguably their best D-back, Demetruce McNeal was recently dismissed from the team. Expectations were high for sophomore Jonathan Jones, 5-10 180 who has gone down to injury.

Testament to the lack of depth at D-back is the conversion of freshman running back Johnathan Ford, 6-0 185, to cornerback.

No question Auburn has guys with the talent to cover. Everyone on the defensive back depth chart was recruited as a cornerback.

The question is, will the Air Raid offense of Coach Leach wear down the Auburn secondary?

Expect WSU to look to exploit the Auburn secondary if they hesitate or show signs of fatigue in the second half.  The coverage confusion created by Auburn’s 4-2-5 scheme may cover up the lack of depth.

Neither Auburn nor Washington State delivered on defense in 2012. The Tigers ranked 79th and the Cougs were two ticks down at 81st. If either team were expecting a victory last season, their offense would have to outscore the opponent. Victories weren’t coming because defense would win the day.

Washington State will rotate fresh players to run routes for four quarters against Auburn. The Tigers will be handcuffed by hoping their first five guys in their secondary can work the entire game without getting winded.

Great opportunity for Connor Halliday to prove he understands the options provided by the Air Raid and begin the 2013 season with a win over a SEC team being retooled after a disappointing 3-9 record tarnished further by going 0-8 in conference play.