Auburn football: Saturday 'half-scrimmage' sees Tigers' defense redeem itself

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comApril 5, 2014 

After the offense had its share of highlights during last week's scrimmage, Auburn's defense bounced back on Saturday. The defense picked off two passes and allowed only one touchdown.

LAUREN BARNARD — Auburn University

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn was originally scheduled to scrimmage in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.

And the Tigers did just that. Sort of. Instead of making it a full-bore scrimmage, Auburn split it in two, deciding to use half the time to simply practice.

Gus Malzahn said they decided to alter the plan given the amount of information the coaching staff already has on its returning players.

“With the older guys they did the first half where we did a lot of ‘thud,” Malzahn said of the drill where players hit in helmets and pads but don’t knock each other down. “With the actual scrimmage part, we let a lot of the younger guys go. Really it was an emphasis on building depth. There were some of the guys that were starters last year that we knew a lot about that didn't participate in the scrimmage.”

The Tigers also had a fair share of special guests on hand, from former lettermen to high school coaches who stuck around from a clinic earlier this week. Malzahn proudly noted “almost 1,000 coaches” came in for the three-day clinic.

Don’t press Malzahn for any details on the scrimmage, though.

“There was a few scores, but at the same time it was more geared for evaluation more than it was …” he said with his voice trailing off. “We didn't kick extra points, so that should tell you something.”

To find out anything, one had to go to the players.

According to Jermaine Whitehead, Saturday moved slower than other scrimmages he’s taken part in.

“(It’s) because we played with the third-string guys that don’t get a lot of reps just speeding it up as fast as it should go,” he said. “I think for the most part it’s still faster than a lot of teams are going to run.”

No teammate impressed Whitehead more than Brandon King. Along with an interception, the senior defensive back turned heads with multiple bone-crunching tackles.

“He made some big hits. I heard a lot of noise from his pads today,” Whitehead said of King. “(He’s) a guy I knew could make those plays, he made them on special teams a little bit last year, to see him make them in the open field as a safety is amazing. I’m proud of him.”

Johnathan Ford, who moved to safety at the beginning of the spring, also continued to level ballcarriers.

“He made some (good) hits today,” Whitehead said. “I think my guys Brandon King and (Derrick) Moncrief outshined him today on the hit scale though. He made some big hits on some running backs that came up through the hole.”

After the offense shined in last week’s scrimmage, the defense seemed to take the upper hand on Saturday. In addition to King’s interception, Moncrief picked off a pass of his own. More importantly, the defense cut down on some of the “explosive plays” that coordinator Ellis Johnson has emphasized eliminating.

“I think we got better today in that area,” Whitehead said. “I think our guys know what to expect from our coaches and know how it looks — fast-paced. I think that was our first time getting to go full-speed, full blow, with the fast-paced offense… The ball is moving and you’re just lining up and playing, not seeing the same formations every play.”

The sole highlight for the offense was a touchdown run by redshirt freshman Peyton Barber.

“We could have done better,” backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson said. “We were not satisfied by our performance today but we're going to watch film and look at our mistakes.”

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