September 16, 2012

Defensive problems easy to see, hard to fix

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AUBURN -- This is starting to look like a spectacle.

The Tigers labored through long stretches of a 31-28 overtime win Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe. These same Warhawks won at Arkansas in overtime a week earlier, which provided at least token legitimacy, and the Tigers were able to repel them in overtime this week.

So that's the good.

Behind that score line is a long list of issues that have even the most optimistic Auburn fans wondering if their team is headed south. It's a reasonable question - and one we'll attempt to answer right now.

Let's start here: This defense doesn't have many go-to players.

Players like Nick Fairley and Cam Newton don't come along very often and, really, I'm not talking about first-round picks. I'm talking about guys who overcome the usual obstacles to make important plays in critical junctures.

The Tigers are allowing opponents to convert 37.5 percent of their third-down situations this season. That puts them at No. 60 out of 120 FBS teams.

Perfectly average.

Still, other numbers are more alarming. Brian VanGorder's defense ranks among the bottom half of FBS teams in all the important categories - pass yards allowed (65th), points allowed (78th), total yards allowed (94th) and rush yards allowed (107th).

Why does that happen? Too many mistakes and not enough standout players to marginalize those mistakes with great individual plays.

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