The Auburn defense Saturday looked like it was on the field for the first time in 2011, save the team's appearance in the BCS National Championship Game in January.
But this group of Tigers is almost completely new; it showed on Saturday.
The young unit gave up an astounding 448 yards of offense from the Utah State Aggies and spent 37:41 on the field. The reason for the Aggies' success was due in part mostly to Auburn's young defensive line.
The Tigers were pushed around like tackling dummies all day by the Aggies' big men up front, leaving gaping holes for Doak Walker Watch List candidate Robert Turbin (12 carries, 70 yards, two TDs) and Kerwynn Williams (10 carries, 69 yards, one TD) to churn right through. Even true freshman quarterback Chuckie Keeton contributed on the ground, piling up 33 yards on eight carries as he scrambled through the young Auburn defense much like Cam Newton to opponents did in 2010.
Keeton also produced through the air, completing 21 of his 30 passes for 213 yards, but minimal success through the air was achieved down-field.
Most of the Aggies' passing onslaught came from quick bubble screens and fast slants over the middle. Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof went with a vanilla game plan Saturday, sticking with Cover 2 coverage as the playcall throughout the day, (usually a Tampa 2-type play) despite Utah State's success underneath.
In the Cover 2 defense, the Tiger defenders line up seven to nine yards off the receivers. This allowed Keeton to complete passes to 11 different receivers on the day on wide-open routes in the short flats and over the middle. If no one is there to defend, the receiver can catch these passes all day. A few athletic moves around inexperienced players five more yards upfield can produce big yardage. The Aggies did well on Saturday to stick with what was working in piling up so many yards and almost upsetting the defending national champions.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said the Tigers were in Cover 2 to defend the option-running threat from Utah State. Auburn expected the Aggies to run more option and have to defend a pitch scenario, but they didn't.
Despite the urge to finger-point and blame the defensive coordinator after Saturday's nail-biter, the main problem here could just be a combination of young players with no experience. And that could be a problem all season.
"We didn't play well (on defense), period," Chizik said. "No excuses. I thought it was a very poor defensive effort. That's not acceptable here at Auburn, so I fully expect us to rectify that next week."
No matter what the problem, let's hope Chizik is right by the time Mississippi State comes to town later this week.
If not, Lord help us.
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