It is nearly as certain as death and taxes in 2012. The Auburn defense will come out of the locker room and be dominated on the opponent’s opening drive.
It happened again last Saturday against Vanderbilt. The Commodores easily marched down the field in commanding fashion against Brian VanGorder’s unit. It also converted on two fourth-down attempts.
It happened again coming out of the locker room at halftime. Just like the opening drive of the game, Vanderbilt took the opening drive of the second half down the field fairly easily and scored a touchdown.
Those were the only two touchdowns that the Commodores scored on Saturday. The rest of the game, the Auburn defense played well enough to win.
It is an odd trend that has occurred far too often in 2012. Auburn’s opponents have had their way with the Auburn defense on opening drives. Not all of the opening drives have resulted in scores, but six out of the seven opening drives for the opponent have bent the Auburn defense to the point of breaking. The Auburn defense has broken the last two games.
Here is a breakdown of the opening drives for each of Auburn’s games this season.
Clemson: 6 plays, 2 yards, TOP: 3:02, Punt
Mississippi State: 11 plays, 56 yards, TOP: 4:16, Missed field goal
Louisiana-Monroe: 12 plays, 89 yards, TOP: 6:38, Touchdown
LSU: 11 plays, 56 yards, TOP: 5:34, Fumble
Arkansas: 9 plays, 67 yards, TOP: 3:55, Missed field goal
Ole Miss: 9 plays, 80 yards, TOP: 3:30, Touchdown
Vanderbilt: 16 plays, 75 yards, TOP: 8:25, Touchdown
Those opening-drive numbers average out to ten-and-a-half plays, 60.7 yards and a 5:02 time of possession.
“Our first drive, we’ve been kind of slow, so we’re working on trying to amp each other up,” sophomore defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. “It’s funny: it seems like a score actually makes us play harder, which is very weird.” (via Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)
It is weird. It is also frustrating.
What irks Auburn fans even more is that during a short stretch of each game the defense has played at a high level. So the potential to play well is there for the Auburn defense.
After surrendering the initial touchdown against Vanderbilt to begin the game, the Tigers forced two fumbles, stopped a fake punt and forced a three-and-out for the Vandy offense before allowing a field goal to end the half.
Why can’t the Auburn defense play like that on the opening drive?
There is no excuse that will make Auburn supporters feel better about the defense’s slow starts, but the problems are likely due to a lack of intensity and not seeing things from the offense that were expected early in the game.
Let’s be honest—as fans it is hard for us to have the same type of intensity in the stands or on the couch for an 11 a.m. kickoff. It’s the same for the players. No bright lights and not much of an electric atmosphere can affect the intensity level. Mature and well-coached teams have the same intensity level at 11 a.m. as they do at 7 p.m.
Brian VanGorder and the position coaches must find a way to get these players motivated before they get trampled on during the opening drive. If you haven’t noticed, the Auburn offense does not have the firepower to fight back from a deficit.
Most teams script their first 10 (or more) offensive plays based on their strengths and what they think the opposing defenses will show them to begin the game. For the Auburn defense, it may be getting looks from the offense that it did not expect on the opening drive.
This would obviously cause problems with getting the correct defensive play call and personnel in the game.
These things should not be happening regardless of the excuse. Solid, well-coached teams do not have issues with intensity or preparation.
Slow defensive starts are just another item on a growing list of problems for the 2012 Auburn football team.