AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn won’t get any cheap yards Saturday.
If there’s one thing offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee could say about Missouri’s defense, it's that it fields one of the most disciplined units he’s seen all year.
“They're always where they're supposed to be, they're solid tacklers but what really stands out after that is that front four is really good,” Lashlee said following Tuesday night’s practice. “Their defensive ends, the (Michael) Sam kid, Kony Ealy, they've got the other two guys that play just about as much as them. Those guys are really active.”
Sam, a senior defensive end, leads the SEC in both sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (18). Ealy, his counterpart on the other side of Missouri’s defensive line, is no slouch, collecting 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss himself.
“They're really disruptive, they're violent, explosive, so that front four really concerns me, to be honest with you,” Lashlee said. “They're really good. They're really good at what they do. That's probably why they're top two in the league in rushing (defense) and leading the league in sacks.”
Rest assured, though, Lashlee isn’t worried about Auburn’s pass protection, even after allowing three sacks to Alabama last week. Besides, each of the three sacks, he noted, were easily correctable.
On the first, running back Tre Mason didn’t use proper blocking fundamentals and let the defender get inside of him to bring down quarterback Nick Marshall.
The second, Lashlee said, was a bit of luck for the Crimson Tide.
“(Marshall) would’ve probably ran for a while and he just let the guy trip him up,” he said. “Very rarely does that happen. A guy just grabbed his ankle and brough him down, so that would be on him.”
And the final takedown of Marshall was just a good play by Alabama, bringing a blitz that Auburn didn’t pick up quick enough.
“I feel good about where we are protection-wise still,” Lashlee said. “That’s one of the best blitzing defenses in the country. (But) the negative plays hurt us — we 27 lost yards on sacks.”
Of course, keeping Marshall upright and Missouri’s defensive line contained is far from the only thing Auburn’s offense needs to account for Saturday.
While many want to focus solely on Missouri’s defensive line, Lashlee cautioned that would be a mistake.
“Their linebackers are really good players, solid football players, good instincts, they make plays, too,” Lashlee said. “ And they've been really good on the back end. I think they have 18 interceptions. They do a lot of things well. It's why they're 11-1 and in the SEC Championship Game.”