There is a potential weak spot in Brian VanGorder's defensive scheme for Auburn. Only the best offenses with the best talent will likely have what it takes to attempt to exploit this potential crack.
It is no secret that VanGorder will attack the line of scrimmage with extreme aggression. There is no room on his defensive line for a wide-bodied space eater. The goal is maximum disruption in the backfield long before any play has the opportunity to develop.
Brian VanGorder continued to define and perfect his aggressive defensive philosophy in the NFL, where he was limited to only 45 active players on game day. This left him utilizing physically fatigued defensive linemen on more than one occasion. He simply did not have the quantity of defensive linemen necessary to bring the heat in the fourth quarter just as aggressively as he did in the first.
The SEC allows 70 players to travel and dress out for away games. This allows for 25 more active players to rotate into the game and reduce fatigue. For VanGorder it means he will be able to utilize enough defensive linemen to keep up the pressure from the defensive line for a full four quarters no matter how many plays must be defended.
In effect, this makes VanGorder’s defensive line philosophy immune to the fatigue-building goal of hurry-up-no-huddle offensive schemes at the college level. Auburn has 17 very talented defensive linemen to rotate into four defensive-line positions. There is little if any fall-off between the starters and third string or first 12 players.
This active-defensive line approach will cause a wearing effect on the opposition's offensive line. They will become less and less effective as the game goes on. If offensive-line players are not rotated regularly, the third and fourth quarters could get very ugly for opposition offenses no matter how talented their starters may be.
The possible Achilles heel of the VanGorder philosophy rests with linebacker play. Linebacker is not an overly aggressive position in this defensive scheme. Linebackers must be ready to read and contain any plays that escape the aggressive first wave of the defensive line.
Most offensive coordinators will attempt to attack this defensive philosophy using screen passes, delayed draw plays and the occasional pass to the flats on either side. The linebackers must read these plays and disrupt them while also hemming up any rushing plays that escape the defensive line assault.
In reality this is less complex than the role of the linebacker in the previous defensive philosophy under Ted Roof. Due to the hesitant reaction of the defensive line in the old scheme, the linebackers had an almost impossible task in that scheme.
Auburn is particularly well suited to implement the VanGorder philosophy for linebackers. This type of scheme plays to the very strength of middle linebacker Jake Holland and outside linebacker Daren Bates.
While Holland was often criticized for his run-stuffing ability, he was solid in read coverage. He should only get better in this area for the 2012 season. Bates was often criticized for his lack of size when forced to take on offensive linemen. He has put on some serious muscle but should also find himself facing offensive linemen much less in this scheme.
New defensive-backs coach Willie Martinez will be preparing a very deep Auburn secondary unit to play more active zone coverage and much more press coverage this season. Again we find an area where the added bodies allowed in college as compared to the NFL will be a huge bonus to be exploited by VanGorder.
Teams can attempt to implement three, four and five wide sets, but Auburn has the secondary depth to cover them for the entirety of four quarters without becoming overly fatigued. The secondary will have a much shorter required coverage window with the aggressive defensive line play as well.
How does this apply to the schedule?
Clemson: This is a team totally rebuilding their offensive line. They are unlikely to be able to sustain any success utilizing long, slow developing plays. They are particularly well equipped to attack with draws, screens and passes to the flats.
Of all the teams Auburn faces in 2012, this could be the one best equipped to attack the weakest point of the VanGorder defensive philosophy. Auburn fans can gauge the future effectiveness of the 2012 Auburn defense largely on this game.
Mississippi State: The new Auburn defensive scheme should be particularly troublesome for this team in 2012. Their best chance will be to attempt to get into a defensive showdown.
LSU: This is a very talented team that will likely attempt to attack the new Auburn defensive scheme head on and wear down the defense. They will fall back on screens, option runs and draws if this approach does not work.
If Auburn can find a way to successfully attack the LSU defense, they have a great opportunity to get a win over a top-five team in this game. The Auburn defensive scheme should be particularly troublesome for LSU.
Arkansas: The new Auburn defensive scheme will force Arkansas out of their bread-and-butter offensive plays. They have both the players and scheme to attack the weak point of the new Auburn defensive philosophy.
Much like Clemson, Arkansas will likely utilize screens, draws and passes to the flats in an attempt to overwhelm the Auburn linebackers. Auburn linebacker play could well decide the outcome of this game if the Arkansas defense has improved.
Ole Miss: It will be very difficult for this team to attack the Auburn defense successfully this year.
Vanderbilt: This team can execute screens, draws and passes to the flats, but they simply do not have the talent to match up. If the Auburn offense can score, a win should be the result in this game.
Texas A&M: This team will attempt to wear the Auburn defense down with the hurry-up-no-huddle philosophy. Unless they find a way to completely shut down the Auburn offense, it will be very difficult for them to overcome the Auburn defense.
Georgia: The new Auburn defensive philosophy should be particularly troublesome to Georgia’s normal offensive scheme.
Alabama: The new Auburn defensive philosophy should force Alabama into a short-screen game. Linebacker play could decide the outcome of this contest.
If Auburn can get solid performance from the linebacker positions, the Auburn offense will likely have a chance to win every SEC contest this season. While the Auburn defense may not be the best in the SEC this season, it should have the potential to keep the Tigers in every contest to the end.