Auburn Football: Ability to Attack on D Will Lead to More Takeaways in 2013

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Auburn Football: Ability to Attack on D Will Lead to More Takeaways in 2013
Auburn defenders Demetruce McNeal, Cassanova McKinzy and Jonathan Mincy tackle Vandy's Zac Stacy and force a turnover. Photo credit: Todd Van Emst / Auburn media relations

Among the many problems on the defensive side of the ball for the Auburn Tigers in 2012 was the lack of takeaways by the defense. 

Auburn only had a total of 13 takeaways last fall. Eleven of those came from fumbles and only two of those came in the form of an interception (only one from the secondary). The Tigers tied Kentucky for 12th in the Southeastern Conference in turnovers gained. Only Arkansas was worse with 12 gained. 

Auburn's lone interception by the secondary in 2012.

Now, with the ability to have a more attacking defense, Auburn is primed to have more takeaways in 2013. 

Most defensive coordinators use the same buzzwords about what kind of defense they run—multiple, attacking, aggressive. A lot of the time, that type of defense does not come to fruition when games are played. 

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. Photo credit: Todd Van Emst / Auburn media relations

For Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, he'll have an opportunity to have the type of multiple, attacking defense in 4-2-5 scheme that he has talked about since being hired in December. A lot of it has to do with the offensive attack of the Tigers. 

There are pros and cons of being on the defensive side of the ball on a team with an uptempo offense. On the negative side, the defense could be worn down from being on the field a long time because the uptempo offense is designed to extend a football game. Short, quick drives lead to the defense being on the field for 75-plus plays a game. 

What does not get mentioned a lot is the positive side of playing defense on a team with an uptempo offense. 

Knowing that it is a near certainty that the offense will get its share of points each Saturday, Johnson can take more risks in coverage and blitzing. As they say, more risk equals more reward. 

When Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was running the offense as the Tigers' offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011, he didn't have problems scoring points. In 2009, Auburn was 17th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 33.3 points per game. In 2010, the Tigers vaulted up to seventh in the nation, averaging a whopping 41.2 points per game. 

Through the first two games of 2011, before being asked to slow down the offensive pace, Auburn scored 42 and 41 points. 

In 2009 and 2010, Auburn gained 25 and 22 turnovers, respectively. 

Malzahn has used the simple fact that his offense helps the defense in recruiting, most notably with 5-star DE Carl Lawson in February (h/t Joel Erickson, al.com):

"His offense, simply put, scores a lot of points, and to be able to produce points in a defensive-heavy system in the SEC is something special," Lawson said. "It coexists with what I do. I like to rush the passer, and I can't do that if no points are being scored." 

So far, spring practice reports have indicated that the Tigers defense will be more opportunistic in 2013. Auburn has picked off a handful of passes in live situations.

Cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith expects more picks from his men. So many, in fact, that his goal is to lead the SEC in interceptions in 2013, after only having one interception from the secondary in 2012. 

Melvin Smith talks to his group on Saturday, April 13. Photo credit: Todd Van Emst / Auburn media relations

"Coach Smith, he tells us every day," CB Joshua Holsey told Brandon Marcello of al.com, "'You're gonna get picks this year.' He's like, 'We're going to lead the SEC in picks this year.' That's his goal. He wants us to get picks no matter what."

It's a lofty goal, but with the ability to attack on defense in 2013, it's an attainable one. 

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