Auburn Football: Defensive Tackles Key in Early Poor Defensive Performance

Kevin McGradySenior Writer ISeptember 16, 2011

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 10:  Offensive lineman Blaine Clausell #75 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs reacts to the loss as defensive tackle Kenneth Carter #92 and defensive lineman Devaunte Sigler #96 of the Auburn Tigers celebrate a 41-34 win in the fourth quarter on September 10, 2011 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
Butch Dill/Getty Images

Even after two victories to start the 2011 season, there is cause for concern on the plains. While everyone knows that Auburn utilizes a bend-don’t-break defensive philosophy, it is apparent that something is missing with the Auburn defense.

After two games, the Tigers are ranked 118 in rushing defense. The news is no better with passing defense, as the Tigers find themselves ranked 56. This could be worse, but teams have not found it necessary to pass more, as rushing has been sufficient.

The reasons for this are mixed and difficult to pinpoint. Auburn is close to the top of the SEC in tackles for loss, which usually indicates strong defensive line play. The news is conflicting with sacks, as Auburn is near the bottom of the conference.

Linebacker play has been plagued by bad angles and missed tackles. The starters at defensive tackle have combined for only one quarterback hurry in two games. The entire defensive tackle rotation has combined for only two quarterback hurries.

This is a strong indicator that a lack of push in the middle of the defensive line is causing severe problems with the Auburn front seven. This is also a key reason behind teams having so much success rushing the football on the perimeter. With the linebackers needing to backup the poor performance in the center of the line, the outside corners have become vulnerable to speed rushers.

Contrary to the defensive tackles, the starters at defensive end have accumulated seven quarterback hurries in only two games. The performance from the ends has been solid.

In the first two games of the season, the defensive tackle position has not been played at the level necessary for success in the SEC. This poor performance has led to a cascade of negative effects throughout the Auburn defense.

While this may seem like very bad news for this Auburn defensive unit, this is not entirely the case. This group of Auburn defensive tackles have been abused and schooled by two quality, veteran offensive lines in the first two games. The Auburn defensive tackles have been dominant on certain plays, and the frequency of this dominance has increased with every down played this season.

In all likelihood, the Auburn defense will improve exponentially with improvement from the defensive tackle group this season. The quicker the defensive tackles improve, the sooner Auburn will return to a formidable rushing defense.   

In all likelihood, Auburn fans should see improved defensive performance for the next three games. The offensive lines of Clemson, Florida Atlantic and South Carolina have not performed at peak levels this season. These three games should give the embattled Tiger defensive tackle rotation a chance to catch up in their performance level before playing better offensive lines later in the schedule.