AUBURN, Ala. — Ellis Johnson was pleased with his unit’s effort on Saturday.
It was everything else that disappointed Auburn’s defensive coordinator.
“In fact, I think the effort really is what kept us from giving up points because we really had some trash plays all over the field that could have created some situations for us,” he said following Sunday's practice. “For the most part, I thought we got good pressure on the quarterback, but we're letting him escape too much. In addition to that, we came out of coverage a couple of times when we needed to hold coverage on those scrambles and it created some of their explosive plays.”
Perhaps surprisingly given his otherwise harsh critique, Johnson graded the tackling in the team’s 38-9 victory over Arkansas State as an “A-minus.” What set it apart from the season opener versus Washington State was that the takedowns were more physical.
But at the same time he praised them, Johnson found a way to get in a slight criticism.
“We had some that looked a little ugly,” he said. “(There were) some space tackles that we've got to start making. Those are critical because it gives up a lot of extra yardage. Guys, I think, sometimes are trying to take a little bit too aggressive shots. Sometimes you've just got to make the sure tackle.”
It was far from the only area that concerned Johnson. The Tigers need to do a better job getting opponents off the field. Johnson believes it will come back to haunt them at some point this season if it isn’t corrected.
“Right now we're giving up too many first downs,” he said. “Third-down defense is not that bad. I think we're about 38 percent right now, counting those fourth downs that we stopped them. But we're giving up first downs on those second downs. Overall, we're way down on allowing first downs by opponents, and that's got to stop.”
Stopping the Red Wolves was one thing the Tigers were able to do – at least when it came to preventing touchdowns. Arkansas State managed only three field goals against Auburn.
It was the first time in nearly five years the Red Wolves were held without a touchdown.
“Any time somebody doesn't touch the end zone, you've done something right,” he said. “I think their effort and their ability to finish plays and finish series and tackling (was better) than the first game.”
Lashlee: Holding penalties are inexcusable
Echoing his fellow coordinator, Rhett Lashlee was far from pleased on Sunday. Auburn’s offensive coordinator was irritated with the four holding penalties called on his unit in Saturday's victory.
“The bottom line is some are obvious and some are close,” he said. “We even coach off the plays they don't call penalties on. If we have a play where they didn't call it on a wideout but he grabbed some jersey and they could have, we point that out to our guys and we have accountabilities for it. Same thing with the linemen because there's plenty of times that they don't call it that they could. Sometimes they call it and you never know.”
It’s easy to forget when to disengage from a defender, Lashlee admitted. Regardless, he said players have to make it second nature not to grab a jersey when they’re blocking.
"A 12-yard gain without a penalty is much better than a 50-yarder that is coming back because I held somebody,” Lashlee said. “Some of it's fundamentally getting in a better body position where I don't have to hold. But it doesn't matter how or why. Two games in a row now, I think we've had four or five penalties on offense. We've had a touchdown called back in both games on offense, so that alone is no good. We'll get beat if we do that very often. “
Mullen: Russell, Perkins to play if healthy
Two of Mississippi State’s most important offensive players sat out on Saturday. Even without quarterback Tyler Russell and tailback LaDarius Perkins, the Bulldogs had no trouble easing past overmatched Alcorn State, handing the Braves a 51-7 loss.
In his Sunday teleconference with reporters, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said both should be back this weekend, when it heads on the road to face Auburn in the SEC opener for both squads.
"If Tyler is healthy and ready to go, he'll be playing quarterback for us," Mullen told The Dispatch in Columbus, Miss. “If he's not, then Dak (Prescott) will be playing quarterback for us.”
Perkins, a senior, suffered a sprained ankle in the season opener against Oklahoma State. He missed Saturday for precautionary reasons, but barring a setback, Mullen said he'll be to play against Auburn without any limitations.