AUBURN, Ala. — Consider Ellis Johnson surprised.
Heading into last week’s game against Arkansas, Auburn’s defensive coordinator was confident, believing his unit had performed well in all its practices prior to Saturday.
Then the game began.
The Razorbacks ripped off runs of 13, 12 and nine yards in a span of four plays on the contest’s opening possession. Arkansas went on to finish with nine runs of 10 or more yards, totaling 222 rushing yards in all. It was the second-most yards the Tigers have allowed on the ground this season, trailing only the 228 it permitted to LSU.
Needless to say, Johnson expected far better play from his unit than what he saw.
What was the reason for the defense’s struggles Saturday?
“The majority of it was just formation adjustment,” he said. “Their formations didn't change, but what they'd been doing was giving you a formation and then checking on the sideline to get into the best play. We kind of formulated our plan based on that, where we could play defense, if they checked, we were going to check. So a lot of our stuff was built on that.”
The Razorbacks moved things around pre-snap far more than Johnson initially suspected, such as resetting the tight ends and crossing motions through the backfield.
“The adjustments we had sometimes weren't clean and they were able to get our edge on the outside runs and a couple of our inside runs weren't gapped up right,” he said. “It was just a really tough adjustment for us, and the formation movements caused most of it.”
Sure, Johnson said, the Tigers were “really close” on numerous occasions — just not close enough. Not surprisingly, the statistic that pained Johnson the most was Arkansas’ success extending drives, as the Razorbacks successfully converted nine of their 16 third-down attempts.
“We're having opportunities to get off the field that we're missing,” he said. “We had 10 possessions. We get three takeaways, we have one goal-line stand, we give up one touchdown from 13 yards out. So we give up one touchdown drive the whole night, but there's too many plays in between there that we're just not real clean on.”