Archived Story

Tigers learning to play winning defense

Published 10:03am Wednesday, September 11, 2013

By Andy Graham

The Auburn Tigers opened the 2012 season 0-2, losing to Clemson by seven points and Mississippi State by 18 points.
After Saturday night’s victory, the Tigers have now begun the 2013 season 2-0, beating Washington State by seven points and Arkansas State by 29 points.
With all due respect to the Cougars and Red Wolves, I think it’s fair to say that last year’s opening games were against higher quality opponents.
However, a blind man can already see how much better coached Auburn has been in 2013.
Last year, the Tigers had seven turnovers in the first two games. This year, they only have two (which is still too many).
Last year, Auburn only had two interceptions all season long. This year, they’ve already picked off three.
In 2012, the offense scored a total of 29 points in the first two weeks.  In 2013, the offense has put up a total of 69 points in two weeks.  The Auburn offense didn’t reach that total last year until the sixth game.
Obviously, the Tigers have improved in virtually every area, but the defense has been the most impressive to me so far.
Now, I must confess that I laugh a little when making the previous statement.
Can a defense that has given up 886 yards in two games really be considered impressive?
It’s also somewhat ironic that Auburn honored the 1988 team last Saturday night.
It happened to have one of the greatest and nastiest defenses in SEC history. They were the kind that would go after the quarterback’s family when they were done with him.
That whole team would probably line up to slap me in the face for such heresy, but everybody’s got to start somewhere. After all, it doesn’t really matter how many yards a team gives up.
All that really matters is how many points they give up, and that’s where Auburn has been impressive.
The Tiger defense has not given up a touchdown in six quarters. The last time an Auburn defense accomplished that feat was in the first two games of the 2008 season.
Ellis Johnson is literally teaching his guys how to play winning defense, because it’s been so long since it’s actually been done on the Plains.
The first step is to keep the opponent out of the end zone by any means necessary.
If Auburn can keep doing that, they can work on cutting down the yardage as they continue to progress.
Gus Malzahn told his players after the game that he was proud that they were 2-0, and they had a lot of room for improvement.  Then he said, “we’re going like this and you can feel it.”
He was motioning with his hand in an upward motion indicating that Auburn is on the rise, and the players are starting to feel it.
It’s amazing how much different a team can look when everyone is on the same page and everyone is pulling in the same direction with maximum effort.
I’m not sure about the rest of the season or even next week, but I’ve already had more fun in two weeks than I had all of last year.
One parting shot: I can’t remember a single time in my life when I’ve ever pulled for Alabama, but I’m going to come as close as I ever have this weekend.  Johnny Full-of-himself has simply become unpalatable.
Graham is a sports columnist for The Outlook.